British bank customers are hearing a lot about a 19th-century Scottish cleric called Henry Duncan, who opened the world’s first savings bank in 1810, from Lloyds Banking Group and TSB, the latest descendant of the good vicar’s pioneering idea.
But the origins of “new TSB” are less inspiring than those of its ancestor. It is the brand attached to bank branches the European Commission has forced Lloyds to separate out as a condition of the group’s post-crisis government bailout. In due course, Lloyds is expected to float TSB on the stock market.
That’s why it grates with me that Rev Duncan is being hauled back from the grave to endorse the new entity, in advertisements that promise a traditional, local approach to banking. TSB is evidently hoping to disinter the original bank’s culture, as well as its founder. But that’s easier said than done.
In the 1980s, when the Trustee Savings Banks (then a group of mutuals with a federal structure) were first prepped for flotation, they too promised to maintain a local approach. But in 1995, Lloyds absorbed TSB and the rest is (rather dismal) banking history.
After TSB agreed to demutualise in 1982, the FT interviewed Sir Harry Page, who had reviewed the UK national savings system and suggested reforms to the savings banks in a government report. His warnings have a familiar ring:
They [the Trustee Savings Banks] might start off having individuals as shareholders, but before very long they might find that the insurance companies and pension funds have bought them up and they are not different from other banks.
So, a guarded “welcome back” to Rev Duncan – let’s hope the latest incarnation of the bank you opened in a small white bothy in Dumfriesshire does justice to your memory.