Some tip-offs are so awful that you almost hope they are untrue. When I was told by Geoff Robbins, a computer consultant, that he had been asked about his political connections before opening an account with the state-controlled Royal Bank of Scotland it sounded fantastical. Having the state owning the UK banking system is bad enough, but asking about party membership before you open an account? Not in Britain, I thought. And indeed, the RBS press office denied it outright. “We would not ask that question, nor dream of doing so,” said an RBS spokeswoman. So had Robbins concocted his story? I doubted it. So I called RBS Streamline myself and pretend to set up an account for credit card processing facility. I used the details of my mother-in-law’s real company and when they started to talk politics, I switched on the tape recorder. Here is the audio, the transcript is below.
FN: Could you repeat the exact question again?
RBS: Is she a member of any political party, basically? (note: he was referring to my mother-in-law)
FN: I must admit I’m not entirely happy with answering that question. I don’t see what relevance it has to…
RBS: [He says a supervisor will call me back, as one of the company directors lives abroad]
FN: But listen, I mean when you call back, we may be prepared to answer that political question. But can you explain again one more time why it’s relevant?
RBS: It is put upon us by the Financial Services Authority to try and omit any money laundering and things like that. It helps us crack down on fraudulent merchants by asking these types of questions.
FN: But I don’t understand why, say, if she is a member of the Conservative Party or Labour Party, that is related to fraud?
RBS These are questions thrust upon us by the Financial Services Authority, sir.