When you get a job in London, you need a national insurance number, or simply NINO, and a bank account. Getting a NINO is quite straightforward, yet opening a bank account is a different story.
Colleagues and friends warned me about this paradox: in the UK is a real challenge to hand over your money to the banks. You need to go through fire and water, defy the law of gravity and perform unimaginable rituals before – victory! – you will get the privilege to deposit your hard-earned money in the pockets of some financial institution.
Armed with a reference letter from the recruitment agency, I took a deep breath and went to the first bank, which was known as a more reasonable one.
Canary Wharf is one of the main financial centres in London, a soulless jungle of steel and glass.
Monday, Bank α. I go to the Canary Wharf branch, where I am welcomed by a smiling lady who asks me the purpose of my visit. “Opening a bank account”, I say raising my eyebrows. “You need an appointment”. “Ok, I would like one as soon as possible”. The next availability for me is in two days. I can still rely on my savings approximately ten days from now, so Wednesday is satisfactory.
Wednesday, still Bank α. I arrive ten minutes earlier. I handle my reference letter to the consultant dealing with my case and I explain that my passport has expired and I don’t have any bills to prove where I live as I have just moved to London. The consultant is giving me a rather sceptical glance. He is reading the letter slowly, nodding, then he disappears, with the piece of paper still in his hands. After ten minutes he’s back. “We can’t accept this; the recruitment agency needs to add more information in the letter, X and Y”. “OK, it’s doable, but let’s book now the next appointment”. “Sure, let’s say next week, Tuesday?” “What next week Tuesday? I need a bank account asap, I need to be paid, please look for a time slot this week”. “Not possible, everything is already booked. However, this branch is so busy because it’s in Canary Wharf, but you should try others that are not so crammed up. I can recommend the branch in Greenwich. It’s easy to get there”. “I would prefer, however, to keep the appointment for next Tuesday”.
I go back to my computer, get in touch with the recruitment agency, and tell them to update my latter. Later on, I travel from Canary Wharf to Piccadilly Circus to pick up the document as the bank is not happy with a scan. This is a two-hour journey, including the return.
Thursday, still Bank α, the Greenwich branch.
One of the best views of Canary Wharf, from the top of Greenwich Park
It takes me 40 minutes to get from my office to the bank. I don’t have an appointment and it seems I don’t need one as there are just two people in front of me. I wait patiently, like a good, obedient schoolgirl. After 15 minutes I get to explain the situation to the bank officer, I have this employer letter, your colleagues from Canary Wharf sent me here, please, can you help me? The woman gives me a glacial look, her mouth set in a hard line. Now I really feel like a schoolgirl that did something nasty and will be soon expelled with no remorse. The woman is grabbing the letter and leaves the room. I can hear her talking to a man indistinctly for a couple of minutes. She comes back with the same glacial look, no smile, she is even frowning. “My manager assessed the situation and told me we can’t accept this”. “Why?” “Because your company is not in this area, we haven’t heard of it, this needs to be sorted out by the Canary Wharf branch”. “But they sent me here”. My voice is low and grave. “I am sorry, we can’t help you”.
Oh boy, my savings are vanishing, slow and steady.
Friday. Today is the day. I am going to visit all bank branches in Canary Wharf. One by one.
Bank β. We need proof of address. Oh, we can’t help you unless you provide a bill you paid recently.
Bank γ. Where are you from? Oh, Romania. Yes, for Romania you need your passport. Yes, we know your country is in the European Union, but we don’t accept the ID. Too bad if the passport has expired. We can’t help you.
Bank δ. You just need to fill in this form. We can do it together now. Yes, sure, right now. However, the account will be opened in approximately two months. Oh, as soon as possible? I am sorry, we can’t help you.
Bank ε. No passport? No bills paid already? Ha, lady, we cannot help you, doooh!
During the weekend I convened the Gods. I meditated until I floated. I had an out-of-the-body experience. I got in touch with my inner child and consulted the elders. I went through fire and water. I metamorphosed into a vulture, reached the sky, and came back to the red brick house in Brockely, London.
On Tuesday I knew what I had to do. I put on my smart blazer and high heels, I went straight to the Bank α and had my bank account sorted. Because yes, I am a sorceress.
This is the only way you will have the pockets of London banks wide opened for your money.