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It’s all foreign to us…

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The provision of international services in branch banking has come full circle. At Martins Bank it begins with a select few offices whose work sesed almost secretive to those who do not work there (see “Foreign to You “article below).  It rolls out to all branches through the provision of currency and travellers’ cheques, and in the twenty-first century it has largely disappeared, with currency shops widely found on high streets and in supermarkets. 

MARTINS BANK TRAVEL SERVICES

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To say that Martins Bank operates “OVERSEAS BRANCHES” could perhaps be a little misleading, as it implies some kind of network of offices abroad.  What it actually refers to, is three key branches in England that process international payments, stocks and shares and securities, Martins’ Cross-Channel Branch, which operates on the Dover to Calais sailings, and an office in Paris which gathers statistical information on European and World trade and reports directly to the Bank’s Information Department at Head Office in Liverpool.  From 1966 Martinplanning is rolled out as the way to save and plan for that trip of a lifetime. Alongside the specialist provision of international trade and travel services in Liverpool Manchester and London, every one of Martins Bank’s Branches and sub-Branches is able to deal with the issue of foreign currency and travellers’ cheques to holidaymakers and business travellers, and forty-one of them are designated “SPECIAL FOREIGN BRANCHES” including the somewhat unlikely yet exotic sounding “BRADFORD OVERSEAS”! Originally Martins Bank’s three overseas offices were known as “Foreign” branches. Whilst they do much more than simply handling travellers’ cheques, it is worth noting that the payment of these cheques is the first and only part of Martins clearings to be fully automated and handled by computer.  The work of the Overseas Branches is complex, varied and integral to projecting and maintaining a good image of the Bank around the World…

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MARTINS BANK’S MAIN OVERSEAS TRAVEL AND TRADE BRANCHES

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For many branches the provision of travel facilities is their main contact with Overseas work. Under the overall direction of the Chief Overseas Manager, three Overseas branches in London, Liverpool and Manchester, together with the foreign departments of 41 'special' branches placed strategically throughout the country, deal each day with a variety of overseas business which may be FOREIGN TO YOU…

 

But it's quite simple; when I found I had signed it wrongly I tore it up.' Though not quite the normal treatment to accord a Travellers' Cheque this was, in fact, one of the many explanations offered last year in support of a refund application. Over five million pounds worth of Travellers' Cheques were issued in 1965, to say nothing of currency notes, but this formed only a small part of the Bank's total overseas business, some of which could hardly be termed 'banking'.  We heard, for example, of the appeal from a very worried customer whose daughter, living in New York, had just advised her family that she was getting married in a few days' time. Naturally they were anxious to know something of the prospective bridegroom, and who better to turn to than the Bank ? Their fears were soon dispelled by a cable from one of our banking friends in New York showing the groom to be a 'good catch'. One of the most important functions of the Overseas management is to foster close personal connections with our foreign correspondents and to keep up to date with the ever changing political and economic conditions throughout the world, thus providing current informa­tion for the use of customers and important data when considering facilities for overseas correspondents. Clearly it would be folly to grant excessive facilities to a bank in a country whose economy is weak or whose government is unstable, or to maintain large balances in, or stocks of notes of, a country whose currency is likely to be devalued. Both situations call for appropriate protective measures.

 

Keeping in touch

 

The Overseas management make regular visits abroad and when visiting European countries are accompanied by M. Francois Garelli, our Continental Representative, whose office is in Paris and who keeps them in constant touch with happenings on the Continent. To most of us the word 'work' may seem inappropriate when talking of visits to such places as New York, Hong Kong, Bermuda or Mexico City, but after seeing some of the itineraries and the number of calls made we conceded that it might be justified. Before the trip starts there is a lot of careful planning to be done: they do not launch themselves Bond-like into the blue. Hotel reservations must be made; rail and plane bookings, often entailing uncomfortable overnight travel, fixed; appointments arranged; statistics and reciprocity figures studied. These trips tend to follow a pattern averaging six or seven banking calls each day in addition to other engage­ments. Discussions range over local conditions, the political and economic climate, possible banking changes, local banking practice, and our business relationship with the bank being visited. At the end of the day reports on each of the visits must be completed for mailing back home—that night if possible. Then there is the diary to be written up and, thanks to the advent of 'drip-dry', the laundry to be done. Mention of 'Exchange Dealers' conjures up a vision of flashing lights, ringing phones, clattering Telex machines and whirring calculators. We found this picture of the dealers' room real enough and made more confusing by a continual patter containing such un­intelligible phrases as 'How would you swop 10th August against 14th December in dollars?', 'We're looking for the bid for a few six months cross', 'How do you deal in Paris over the weekend ?', and I’ll make you ten to par in marks over the turn'. We asked for the translations and hope these  will make everything clear.

 

1.          A request for a dealing rate in U.S. dollars against sterling, purchasing or selling the early date against a counter deal in the longer date.

 

2.          An indication that the dealers are potential sellers of Canadian dollars for delivery in six months' time against U.S. dollars and would welcome a firm bid.

 

3.          An enquiry as to how the market deals in French francs against sterling for delivery on Friday against delivery on Monday.

 

4.          An offer to deal in Deutsche Marks against sterling for delivery on the last day of this month against the first day of next month at a rate of 1/10th Pfennig to par.

 

Underneath the bustle and the jargon the dealers' smooth transactions total many millions of pounds and play their part in maintaining London's position as the major Foreign Exchange Market in the world. Although Exchange Control is now less rigorous, 'Authorised Banks' are still heavily involved in its administration. As well as authorising the more routine applications the Overseas branches assist customers in preparing and submitting applicators to be considered by the Bank of England. These may be fairly straightforward as, for example, an application dealing with the purchase of a holiday villa in Spain. But they may be more involved, concerned perhaps with the giving of a guarantee in support of borrowing abroad by the foreign subsidiary of a United Kingdom Company.  In addition, the Overseas branches give a considerable amount of advice and guidance to customers and branches on Exchange Control matters in general, sometimes accompanying customers at personal interviews at the Bank of England. Changes in Government policy such as the imposition of sanctions against Rhodesia can directly affect the work of the Overseas branches and departments. Other changes, such as the import surcharge, have an indirect effect through their influence on customers' business. All changes, however, bring their quota of queries and calls for advice.

 

Advising and guiding customers and branches on all facets of overseas work whether due to a policy change or not, whether in connection with complex financial arrangements involving capital projects abroad, in preventing a ship being arrested in a foreign port or, more simply, how to effect a transfer abroad, have always formed an important part of the Overseas service. To have to arrange the disposal of bursting barrels of apricot pulp; to have hundreds of Pakistani tennis racquets delivered over the counter without warning; to have to find a room with a suitable northern light to facilitate the examination of a valuable emerald, or to be offered a bag of loose diamonds instead of shipping documents were hardly the types of problem we expected to hear of in connection with documentary credits and collections. Of course, these are the exceptions and the majority of the increasing thousands of export and import transactions handled each year are settled without undue difficulty. We heard of instances where documents presented under a credit were so numerous that they had to be delivered in cartons. We have not mentioned the securities work carried out, the thousands of payments made and received, the status reports obtained, or the complex book-keeping systems which are necessary for the many currencies involved. All play their part in providing an efficient service to customers and correspondents but, to us, the most important feature of this highly specialised side of banking was the number of people from managers downward so obviously anxious to help in finding a solution to the problems at the branches. Only a tele­phone call away is someone with the answer to the things that are FOREIGN TO YOU…

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