Bank manager's move didn't exactly add up

3rd April 2009 at 01:00

Students don't turn up to college in suits very often these days. At least in FE colleges they don't.

Yet here he was, this young man in a smart grey suit, making me feel distinctly underdressed. Actually, he wasn't so much a student as an aspiring one. It seemed he had dressed to impress for his admissions interview.

I say seemed because it turned out he was really dressing down rather than up. He had on an open-neck shirt rather than a tie, and as we chatted a bit about his background he casually let slip that he was a bank manager.

"That's interesting," I said. "And now you've been found surplus to requirements by the financial crisis . ".

"No, I'm still in post," he replied. "And I'm only going to leave when you tell me you've accepted my application."

He was applying for the access to teaching course. A year with us, then three at university and he would be qualified for the classroom.

"I think you must be the first banker I've ever interviewed for a college course," I told him.

"Yes, but somehow I think I won't be the last," he said.

We talked a bit more. Why did he want to come into teaching?

"I want to do something that matters - give something back."

"Like a trillion dollars, you mean?" I didn't actually say that. Sarcasm really is the lowest form of wit when the man in front of you is about to turn his back on filthy lucre for a career of selflessness and dedication to the public good.

"You look young to be a bank manager," I observed. I guessed he was about 30. It's bad enough with policemen all looking as if they've just left primary school, but now it's starting to happen with the pillars of our society.

"I was even younger when I first got the job," he said. "I was just 24."

"The same age as William Pitt the Younger when he became prime minister back in 1783." (OK, I admit, I was showing off.)

"Yes, but I didn't have family connections to help ease my path."

"If you don't mind my asking, how did you get the job so young?"

"I was good at selling. That's what being a bank manager is all about these days. At least it was until recently."

"Don't worry," I said. "It'll stand you in good stead in education, too. You'll find you have to sell all sorts of things - particularly yourself - if you want to get on."

Our chat ebbed and flowed. But I couldn't help recalling the first bank manager I ever met. He certainly wasn't 24. And he wasn't into selling, either. He clearly saw his role as holding on to as much of the bank's money as he could. Any that I was going to get would have to be prised from between his steely fingers.

What I'd wanted from him was a loan of Pounds 250 to buy my first car. I did get it, but not before I had endured a 20-minute harangue on the economics of car ownership and my own state of preparedness for them.

"Things have changed," I said. "But let's see if you are going to be suitable for our course."

Like most second-chance students, he felt vulnerable about his lack of conventional qualifications. "I didn't do as well as I could have at school," he said. "I had to work my way up from the bottom in the bank."

His spelling was a bit dodgy - it wasn't as if I'd asked him to spell "fiscal responsibility" - but he wrote a respectable piece on what makes a good teacher.

"All that's left now," I said, "is for you to do a quick maths test."

"Ah, that's what I was dreading," he said. "You see, there are quite a lot of us in banking who aren't very good with figures."

"Yes," I replied, "the rest of us have noticed!"

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