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To bank or not to bank in the UK

October 04, 2004

Pound signA friend recently moved to London. Once again I was reminded about the basic things that are so difficult to accomplish once relocated to London.

Having a bank account is the main thing to arrange to be able to live and work in the capital. While some people manage to get by with cash only, I would not recommend it.

Banks in other countries I have lived in are very keen to secure new customers. They often give new customers perks just to sign up for a new current or savings account. In the UK it seems to be the opposite.

The process to open a current account is so complicated, many people fail trying. Among other countless things you need to provide is an utility bill (electricity, gas, phone, etc) to prove your identity and address. This may seem reasonable until you realise you need a 3-6 months of bank statements to be able to register with an utility company.

Another requirement in order to get a current account is having a monthly salary going in. Since most employers require you having a bank account to put your salary in you have to beg persuade one of them (the bank or the employer) to make an exception from standard protocol.

The thing that seems to work best, regarding bank accounts, is having a lump sum of money to deposit. Having £1,000-2,000 in cash greatly helps to get a bank account quickly but should that really be necessary in a developed country like the UK?

Update 10/11/20
The amount of cash that you are able to deposit into your account without providing evidence where you generated it has just been lowered considerably. It is supposed to be a money laundering deterrent.

A manager I talked to was not able to disclose the exact sum, not even in loose terms but it seems to be below US$100.

Funny thing is that the big fish criminals do not deposit money in their local branch. They just wire it from or to their off-shore accounts. It is average Joe customers, exchange students and tourists that will be affected the most.

An interesting incident below:

I was depositing money in my high street branch the other day. The person in front of me was what appeared to be a smartly dressed business man. He was holding on to a paper bag.

When it was his turn and he declared that he wanted to deposit some money into his savings account, the teller asked him how much money there was in the paper bag.

The business man looked around nervously and reluctantly confessed that he had around £5,000 in the bag.

The cashier then pointed out that he will need to have prove where the money originated and that the bank can refuse accepting the money.

The business man had a fit, calling the bank "the most amateur bank he had ever seen" and wondered how he was supposed to go back out on the street after revealing to everybody how much money he had on him.

The female teller pointed once again at the sign, then at the door and then made visual contact with the security guard.

This was cue to the business man to stick his money under his rain coat and march out into the welcoming arms of London.

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