Simon Carr: The Kitchen Capitalist

There's nothing like a bank to get you down
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The Independent Online

The entrepreneur, as we now know, has to create a world in which his endeavours triumph. We also know that concentrating powerfully enough on this fantasy creates lunacy; imaginary worlds disconnect us from reality. How lucky, then, that there are banks and mobile phone companies and suppliers to bring us back to earth - but oh, the pain of the re-entry.

"Hello, I'd like to open a dollar account." "Thank you for waiting. I'll have to give you another number, have you got a pen?" "What do you take me for, of course I've... Hang on, it's run out." She gives me a number. A voice on the other end gurgles with happiness, saying, "Thanks for calling Lloyds TSB! We're now here when you need us, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so you can call us even earlier in the morning - or whenever it suits you!"

Why don't they just answer the phone without this drivel? I press 1 a few times, and then 2 and then 1 again and then finally get through to the Isle of Man. I'm offshore. The reception is a lot more professional than my gurgling friend. This is international finance. Their recorded message is very cool. "Thank you for calling Lloyds TSB Offshore Treasury. All our operators are currently helping other customers. If you do not wish to hold, please try again later." The go-to-hell indifference gives me confidence that I'm in safe hands. This message plays at 30-second intervals for three or four days while I dream of dollars.

Suddenly a voice answers. It seems to be live. "Can I have your account number?" it asks. "Can I have your dollar account number? You haven't got a dollar account in the Isle of Man? You'll have to ring your branch."

What a slap. You haven't got a dollar account? You're ringing us to open a dollar account without having a dollar account? I ring the Dedicated Account Opening Team in England, who give me a number that I start to write down... Joy, oh joy! It's the Isle of Man number.

I ring my Oxford branch. I speak to someone in Aylesbury. That's where the Oxford branch is, for business purposes. I want them to e-mail me the details but they don't have e-mail, comically enough, in the Business Administration Headquarters of Lloyds TSB. The internet doesn't go as far as Aylesbury. Anyway, they give me a number to ring... but I'm not falling for that again.

The solution turns out to be very old-fashioned. I go into the Oxford branch where people - actual, live people - are so helpful that they ring magic numbers and, after adventures we needn't go into, they mail me a pack. From the Isle of Man.

In the end, I fly out to Hong Kong and open six accounts in seven minutes. We're going to end up as Chinese takeaways in this country.