I have a Relationship Manager.
Everybody who does Business Banking with the Bank of Scotland has one, though I’ve never had to contact mine before. But I did this week, and we had a long chat.
‘Something has gone wrong with our relationship,’ I pointed out. ‘And the bank has caused the problem. Not me.’
We all know there are two sides to everything. And a problem shared is a problem halved. I still can’t, however, pay any cheques made out to ‘HappenStance’ into my business account. This situation arose nine days ago and is still some way from being resolved. Everyone knows it’s hard to stay in credit if your sales product is poetry. It’s even harder when you can’t pay cheques into the bank.
I’ll give you some bankground—I mean background. (As I write, it’s just started to snow. The Pathetic Fallacy rules OK.)
Just over a week ago, hoping to save myself a bit of time, I popped into the bank in St Andrews (not my home branch) to pay in the week’s cheques. The teller looked worried. ‘What does it say here?’ she frowned. ‘Is this word Happen . . .?’
‘HappenStance,’ I said helpfully. ‘It’s the name of the business.’
‘But the name of the account—' she said ‘—is Helen Beaton trading as Helena Nelson.’
‘That’s right,’ I said. ‘Helen Beaton is my passport name. Helena Nelson is my penname. I’m a writer.’
‘But the cheques are all made out to . . . er . . . HappenStance?’
‘Yes, that’s the name of the business. There’s an Arrangement for cheques to be payable to that name.’
An ‘Arrangement’ is what the bank originally called it. I paid £30.00 for my Arrangement seven years ago, at the same time as all my order slips were printed saying ‘Please make cheques payable to HappenStance’.
She frowned and stared at the screen of her computer. ‘I can’t see any evidence of that Arrangement,’ she said. ‘I’ll need to see a manager for some advice.’
With that she disappeared and was gone for a considerable time. The woman behind me sat down in a chair provided for that purpose. I leaned on the counter and tapped my fingers.
Eventually the bank lady returned. ‘We have phoned the bank in Glenrothes,’ she said, ‘and they’re going to phone back. Could you hang on a little longer?’
I had been in a hurry to start with, which was why I made the mistake of going into the St Andrews branch. So I declined her offer and said I’d call into my own branch on my way home. She wasn’t pleased with me. She thought I thought she was being difficult.
But it wasn’t personal. This has happened before. The last time was a few years ago and it was in my home branch. One of the tellers had stared at the screen and said she couldn’t see my Arrangement and had had to go for help. One of her colleagues had then done something, and she could see my Arrangement after that.
So I was pretty confident that when I got to Glenrothes, all would be well. I was wrong.
Nicola Excellent in Glenrothes (they don’t have second names on their badges but customer ratings instead) could not have been nicer. In fact, she was excellent. ‘The problem is,’ she explained, ‘I’ve checked as well, and I can’t see any evidence of your Arrangement.’
‘How did you see it before?’ I said.
She looked blank.
‘I paid in cheques last week,’ I said. ‘How did you see it then?’
Perhaps I didn’t ask this precise question because I don’t recall that bit being answered, and I now know, after reading Oliver Sacks’ Hallucinations, that memory is not a question of accessing a factual store of information so much as a creative act. We did, however, discuss whether the changeover between Bank of Scotland and Lloyds might have had some dire consequences for my Arrangement, though that was not recent.
Worst of all, Nicola confirmed that she couldn’t pay my cheques into the account either, and since it was late Friday afternoon, she wouldn’t be able to follow up with Business Banking until Monday.
Nicola is excellent. She telephoned me on Monday afternoon, with embarrassment in her voice. ‘I’ve spoken to one of the relationship managers,’ she said. ‘They have checked both systems—the current one and the old one—and they can’t see any evidence of an Arrangement having been made.’
I was tense. Were they about to charge me again for a new Arrangement?
‘What we can do,’ she said optimistically, ‘is change the name of your account to HappenStance. It takes a couple of days but I have a form here and—’
‘But will I still be able to pay in cheques made out to Helena Nelson?’
‘Er . . . no, you won’t.’
I explained why that would prove inconvenient when it came to self-assessment at the end of each financial year, not to mention all the BACS payments. Then it occurred to me that poor Nicola was very much in the role of middleman. If I had a Relationship Manager (as all the business banking marketing documents continually reassure me) I should talk to them myself. She gave me the number and I promised to let her know what they said.
So I finished cleaning the bathroom and did a bit of weeding, while I thought precisely what I was going to say.
It took a long time to get through to a Relationship Manager because of switchboard problems. I timed it. Fifteen minutes.
This brings me back to where I started. I told Stuart (relationship managers don’t have second names) that our relationship was foundering, and explained why. He put me on hold (a painful metaphor in relationship terms) while he scanned both systems, the present one and the pre-Lloyds one. When he returned his voice was bleak. ‘I can’t see any evidence of an Arrangement having been made,’ he said.
‘It was made in 2005,’ I said, ‘and since then I’ve been paying cheques made out to HappenStance into this account every week. That’s seven years’ worth of cheques. And up to now the tellers seem to have known there was an Arrangement.’
‘Ah,’ he said. ‘Our system has just changed. Before they wouldn’t have seen it on the screen, but now they do. So they wouldn’t have known HappenStance was the wrong payee.’
‘But surely someone would have checked?’ I said. ‘Could I have been paying in cheques to the wrong name for seven years without someone noticing?’
‘That does seem unlikely,’ he said.
I pictured him with furrowed brow. I didn’t say anything because sometimes silence, in relationship problems, is the best bargaining tool.
‘There is one thing I could still do . . .’
‘I could contact Blurdeblurgh (some place in England) for the archive, and go through it.’
‘What does that mean?’
‘Every paper you actually sign is kept, and they go into a box in Blurdeblurgh. I can search through it for evidence of the document you signed to put the Arrangement in place. You did sign something, didn’t you?’
I’ll stop replaying our conversation at this point because life is short and the snow is getting thicker. It transpires that if Stuart can find physical evidence of an Arrangement, he can reinstate it.
If Stuart can’t find evidence of the Arrangement, it’s no longer possible to have business accounts where cheques are payable to anything other than the name of the account. Should that happen, he is going to think carefully about other ways around the conundrum. He muttered about ‘possibility of two separate accounts’ at one point.
It may take a little while to get the box. Inside the box there will be documents dating back to 2002, when the account was first opened. I feel for him.
Stuart has my home number and my mobile number for Relationship updates. I’m thinking of changing my FaceBook status to ‘It’s difficult.’
Yesterday morning I had a circular from Business Banking offering me a preferential loan to expand my business.