Business banking. Who hasn’t lived or at least heard the stories? Getting a business account in the UK is a nightmare. It takes forever, the hoops you have to jump through are bureaucracy at its worse and no entrepreneur has ever come out of the battle unscathed. But it is, of course, a necessary evil for any of us starting a business.
I’ve had the pleasure of this experience four times in the past 3 years. Once I have been at arm’s length as I opened Meniga’s office in London but since Meniga is by no means a startup anymore and is well established in Iceland and Sweden already, an accountancy firm dealt with this for us so the only reason for higher blood pressure has been how outrageously long it took (tried to remember exact time frame but it seems I am repressing the trauma effectively and can not but it must have been over two months). The frustration was even greater as I had incorporated an Icelandic company I owned with a friend a mere year before that in the UK while still living in Sweden myself by using one of the company formation set-up companies and that took 6 days in total to create and 6 hours to open the account. Of these 6 hours, 5 were spent on a train to somewhere in the middle of England where this firm had their HQ, 30 mins were spent for them to drive me to and fro to the bank from the train station, 25 were spent copying documents and having coffee at said bank and exactly 5 were spent in the HSBC branch manager’s office during which he pleasantly looked at my passport and wished our new venture the greatest of luck after spending 30 seconds intently looking into the eyes of the company formation firm representative and asking him “so they’re good people who need an account to trade is that right, John?”.
That particular assistance firm was bought by a major chain and they no longer are in the market but my HSBC business account subsists. So when I needed to open a pair of others (a new venture and my consultancy) I asked them first if my history with them would mean I could get a second business account faster/easier. They did all they could not to laugh but no, being an existent client would mean nothing in a new application for another business. Neither did being a retail account holder with Santander. I take that back, it did offer me an advantage – that of the business manager in my local branch telling me in confidentiality it could take up to two months.
So I caved and entered a Metro. For the first business I was setting up we filled in the forms and then spent 30-45 minutes with a manager who asked us what seemed like silly questions about our business plan then walked out. 4 days later they called and we were given the account and card. Seemed like magic and should that have repeated with my Consultancy account, this post would have been one to maintain that good solid service where I am sold a product when I want it, not made to wait after I had to beg and threaten really does trump bad branch decor and an obsession with dogs but as you guessed already, it was not meant to be.
I waltzed in on a Friday morning with an already filled application form and asked if there was any way I could have it the next day as I am starting my first engagement very soon and I would like to have an account to be paid in. They said they can not promise it on Saturday or Sunday despite being open but by Monday I should have it. 15 minutes of typing later we hit the roadblock.
Brancher: “Mrs Blomstrom, is there any way you could write more words in this box?”
Me: “Excuse me?”
Brancher: “We just need more information about what you intend to do and what consultancy means”
Me: “Fair enough I suppose, can I continue on the back of the paper?”
Brancher looking stricken “The back of the form?!?”
Me: “Yes, so I write more detail. I could perchance draw a small arrow to indicate it continues on the back or say so with words for clarity’s sake? I just need more space to fit a longer text.”
Brancher: “Let me ask my manager, Ma’am”
Brancher returning 2 minutes later looking dejected “No Mrs Blomstrom, I’m sorry it all has to fit in the front box”
Me: “Fine, please print another page 6 and I’ll write smaller and fit more”
And so I did and then left the branch in the knowledge that synonyms are good and long heralded concision and brevity bad and proceeded to wait patiently till Monday when I received nothing and my three calls were met with empty promises then till Tuesday when I had barely sat down at Finextra’s Future of Money when I received this:
“To Mrs Blomstrom:
I am currently working on opening your business account with Metro Bank but just need to obtain a little bit more information around what you specifically do as a business. I have tried to call you but unfortunately haven’t been able to get through.
If you could tell me a bit more information about your day to day activities. My colleague has told me that you advise banks around their digital banking services such as mobile banking. Is this correct?
If you could provide some information on how you do this? Do you just advise the banks or design the products themselves? Who do you work for and how do you generate your work?
Please don’t hesitate to call the store on the below number. I look forward to hearing from you.
Metro Customer Service Representative”
Now in his defence Will is polite and we’ve all been faced with forms with a minimum number of characters and let’s admit it, Metro is keeping cost down, people are not employed to use critical thinking or look into the eyes of company formation firms to ascertain suitability. Knowing this should have seen me add even more synonyms to my previous attempt, but I’m not in a forgiving mood seeing how we’ve been talking about “Invisible banking”, “seamless delightful experiences” and “emotional contextual experiences” in Canary Wharf so I send this: