I used to write a fortnightly column for Guardian Unlimited called Financial Hypochondriac, in which I had some fun with the idea that the financial system was too complicated to be understood by ordinary mortals, and that consequently we were all being forced into a state of constant anxiety about our finances. At least, those of us who thought about such things were. The columns are still online, too, though I shan’t be reading them myself.
But one thing I’ve been certain of for a long, long time is that the Cooperative Bank is the place to do your day-to-day banking. Why leave your money with the spivs and cowboys of the High Street banks when you could stick it with an organisation that has members not shareholders and even boasts an ethical investment policy? When people complained about the banks, I would say what on earth’s wrong with you? There’s an obvious solution. Move your account to the Coop!
Those smug, carefree current account days are no more. For the Cooperative, it turns out, was being run in just the slap-happy fashion as all the other banks, overstretching itself and essentially making like a third-year undergraduate who’s just negotiated yet another increase to his overdraft. And, to make good its previous indiscriminate cash-splurging, it’s now having to float on the Stock Exchange. Imagine! Grubby stockholders, pawing over the pristine Coop’s finances with their ravenous jaws! Now, when I log into smile.co.uk, the Coop’s now-rather-poignantly-named online banking service, it smells slightly of disappointment and betrayal.
Where do I go now? Nationwide twitches its mutual skirts in my direction, while the fat cats at HSBC open their soiled gaberdine raincoats and offer me a First Direct login. But who to trust, now that good old dependable Coop has turned into a dud?