I have banking inertia. I'm one of those over-loyal creatures of habit who leaves his money where it is, even when it's obvious I could be earning better elsewhere. Indeed, I've only ever entrusted my money to two financial institutions. And this time next year, thanks to a bunch of brand-hungry Spanish financiers, neither of them will exist any more.
My first building society was the Abbey National. I signed up with them in the 1970s, back in the days when they were represented by a married couple under a roof-shaped umbrella. I threw my savings at them, I opened additional accounts, and I even whacked through a five-figure mortgage when the time came. I stuck with the Abbey National when they transformed from a building society to a bank, even though I wasn't 100% convinced demutualisation was the right way to go. Even when the boss decided to drop the 'National' and just call the company 'abbey' (in bright neon lower case), I still hung around.
And now the bank's new owners are taking away the Abbey bit as well. By next Easter everything old will have been gobbled, swallowed and re-packaged under the Santander label. Abbey may have been owned by the Spanish for five years, but now they're taking over everything including the bank's public face. This'll help UK customers to "leverage" global opportunities, apparently. But it'll also help shareholders to close down lots of "unnecessary" branches, and to sack long-serving "colleagues", and to "consolidate" customer service. Ultimately it means even less choice on the high street. And it's a damned shame.
I rather like the idea that my current bank started out in a Baptist Church in Abbey Road, West Hampstead, in 1874 (erm, this church, here), and that the Abbey name has transferred all the way through to the present day. I trust the bank more as a result, even though its underlying operations are now identical to those of its Spanish overlords. I know a mere re-branding really ought not to disappoint me, but it does, it really does. Maybe this is the kick up the backside I need to finally take my business elsewhere.
As for my first bank, that was gobbled up two decades ago. I entrusted my first salary cheque to the National Girobank, and many's the financial transaction I sent off in a Freepost envelope to a mysterious postcode in deepest Bootle. But, like many a long-serving buildingsociety, somebody suddenly thought it would be a good idea to float the privatised bank on the stock exchange. Lots of lovely income from the Alliance and Leicester deal to start with, but then the takeover sharks circled and gobble gobble munch munch gone.
Both the Abbey National and National Girobank are now consumed within a faceless pan-continental bank. There are lots of other historic names absorbed in there too, all of whom started out with big ideas but none of whom could quite survive through a century and a half of turbulent financial opportunism. The future of all these institutions can now be spelt out in nine letters. Sad innit?
Santander swallowed Abbey(2004) (to be eradicated by Easter 2010) rebranded from Abbey National (2003) swallowed Scottish Provident (2001) swallowed National & Provincial BS (1996) merged from the Burnley BS and Provincial BS (1984) swallowed Scottish Mutual (1992) merged from the Abbey Road BS and National BS (1944) established as the Abbey Road & St John's Wood Permanent Benefit BS (1874) established as the National Freehold Land and Building Society (1849) swallowed Alliance & Leicester BS (2008) (to be eradicated by 2011) swallowed Girobank (1990) established as Post Office Giro (1968) merged as the Alliance and Leicester BS (1985) amalgamated as the Alliance BS (1945) established as the Brighton & Sussex Equitable BS (1863) merged with the Leicester Temperance & General (1974) established as the Leicester Permanent BS (1853) swallowed Bradford & Bingley BS (2008) (to be eradicated by 2010) swallowed Hendon BS (1991) merged as the Bradford & Bingley BS (1964) established as the Bradford Second Equitable BS (1851) established as the Bingley, Morton and Shipley Permanent BS (1851)