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History


first mobile - the world's first mobile banking service, introduced by the National Bank of Scotland in 1946

First on the Move: Our Six Decades of Mobile Banking


Our new Helensburgh-based mobile bank not only offers the most modern customer facilities that The Royal Bank of Scotland’s mobile units can afford, but also boasts an unbroken pedigree of 60 years. For it was National Bank of Scotland, a constituent company of The Royal Bank of Scotland, which introduced the world’s very first commercial mobile banking service in November 1946.

The origins of mobile banking can be traced back to the Second World War, when field cash offices provided all units and individual officers with the relevant currency of the country in which they were based and received money from army post offices and officers’ shops. One such unit, originally set up in a tent, is known to have been housed in a three-ton truck from which army banking business was conducted. Similarly the United States army operated pay offices from vans, one of which, a Studebaker, was purchased by National Bank of Scotland to set up its first mobile banking service

first mobile - the world's first mobile banking service, introduced by the National Bank of Scotland in 1946

National Bank of Scotland, founded in Edinburgh in 1825, had an extensive network of branches spread over a wide geographical area. One problem it faced was how to provide banking facilities in remote areas, where the population was too scattered to warrant the establishment of a sub-office. Late in 1946 the idea of introducing a ‘Travelling Bank’ on the Isle of Lewis was suggested to serve, in particular, the island’s crofter weavers who previously had to take a day off work to use the National Bank branch in Stornoway. Accordingly the mobile bank, based at Stornoway branch under the charge of the local agent Donald McIver, went into service on Tuesday 5 November 1946. The Studebaker van, converted for the bank’s own use and to its own design by Kirkness & Innes of Eskbank, had three desks with adjustable swivel seats, shelving, cash boxes ‘and many of the other appurtenances of normal bank offices’. The van was on the road for four days one week and five the next and travelled, on average, some fifty miles per day.

first mobile - the world's first mobile banking service, introduced by the National Bank of Scotland in 1946

Much to the delight of the bank’s directors, the new service immediately aroused great interest from the national media. The Daily Record noted that the new bank was ‘striking evidence’ of the upturn in the economic fortunes of the Isle of Lewis, the Bankers’ Magazine reasoned that ‘this development follows only in logical succession to the efforts of banks to bring their services closer to the banking public’ while The Scotsman light-heartedly stated that ‘Banks which move, even an inch or two, tend to arouse misgivings. But a bank which is perpetually migratory appears almost an incredible phenomenon’. The favourable reaction was encapsulated by The Scottish Bankers Magazine which wrote ‘we are not surprised to learn that the innovation has been greeted with a widespread enthusiasm.’

first mobile - the world's first mobile banking service, introduced by the National Bank of Scotland in 1946

The ‘extremely satisfactory’ progress made by the Stornoway-based service led National Bank of Scotland to launch a second mobile banking service (based in the Fort William area) on 8 November 1947. Encouraged by the National Bank’s success, several other Scottish banks subsequently introduced their own services. The idea also spread to England where mobile caravan trailer units were used by banks, including the Royal Bank’s subsidiary Williams Deacon’s Bank, at exhibitions and agricultural shows.

News of the mobile bank soon reached an international audience too and National Bank of Scotland received enquiries from banks in Africa, Europe, India, Israel, New Zealand and the United States of America, all eager to investigate the possibilities of starting their own services. Justifiably proud of this new Scottish export one contemporary commentator observed that ‘...it seems only fitting that Scotland which has done so much to give banking stability and integrity should at this later day give it mobility as well’.

first mobile - the world's first mobile banking service, introduced by the National Bank of Scotland in 1946

In 1953 The Royal Bank of Scotland itself introduced a mobile bank service using luxurious caravan units of the kind dispatched by its subsidiary Williams Deacon’s Bank to agricultural shows in England. The vehicle comprised a main office and a manager’s room and, on its regular itinerary, called at twenty-six places as far apart as Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Inverness. Meanwhile, in 1949, National Bank of Scotland had replaced the Studebaker vans with custom-built vehicles using an Austin chassis, which in turn were replaced by Albion diesels in 1956. The Albion had been brought into service because it was a heavier, more powerful vehicle than the Austin and was felt to be better suited to the terrain of Lewis. This new mobile bank sported a distinguished livery of silver grey and St Andrew’s blue and was decorated on either side with the bank’s coat-of-arms.

National Bank of Scotland amalgamated with Commercial Bank of Scotland (established 1810), to form National Commercial Bank of Scotland, in 1959. The new bank remained fully committed to its mobile banking facilities, extending the service to Skye, Wester Ross, the Uists and Speyside during the early 1960s. These were welcome developments in a period when the economic future of the Highlands was increasingly uncertain. Indeed, National Commercial rightly claimed that ‘it must be an encouragement to many to know that, at a time when the Beeching cloud hangs over the area, Scotland’s leading Bank has sufficient faith in the future to open up new services’. Moreover, in 1962, the bank also introduced a mobile service with a difference, a boat bank that served the islands around Orkney.

first mobile - the world's first mobile banking service, introduced by the National Bank of Scotland in 1946

The late 1960s were a time of great change in the banking industry in Scotland. In 1969, National Commercial Bank of Scotland amalgamated with The Royal Bank of Scotland to form The Royal Bank of Scotland Ltd. The Royal Bank had itself begun a regular mobile bank service (as opposed to trailers at agricultural shows) in several areas, including the counties of Ross and Sutherland, during the decade. Services were now no longer restricted to the Highlands and one van even operated in the Edinburgh area. Furthermore a flying service, using the bank’s small air carrier subsidiary, Loganair (sold in 1983), was introduced to increase banking facilities in the Orkney Islands. This service superseded the boat bank, which sailed for the last time in 1970.

first mobile - the world's first mobile banking service, introduced by the National Bank of Scotland in 1946

During the 1970s customised Ford Transits replaced the Bedford vans which had been used as mobile units since the mid-1960s. In September 1976, the first official driver of the mobile bank, Kenny Smith, retired after twenty-nine accident-free years of driving the Stornoway service. The mobile bank continued to develop with some fourteen regular routes and twenty-three services in operation. By 1982 the Royal Bank had also extended the service outside of Scotland, through its Williams & Glyn’s subsidiary, with the establishment of a mobile bank on Jersey in the Channel Islands. The 1990s witnessed further changes to the vans themselves with the introduction, in 1991, of two new environmentally-friendly vehicles with low emission engines.

first mobile - the world's first mobile banking service, introduced by the National Bank of Scotland in 1946

Today, nearly sixty years after the introduction of the first mobile bank, The Royal Bank of Scotland is one of the few UK banks that offer a mobile bank service. This service operates in the rural parts of Scotland by taking banking facilities service to many of our customers who do not have access to a Royal Bank branch. There are now fourteen mobile banks in operation, based at branches in Ayr, Bowmore, Brodick, Grantown-on-Spey, Helensburgh, Inverurie, Kyle, Lanark, Lochboisdale, Oban, Perth, Portree, Stornoway and Ullapool. The vans continue to provide a vital service to the communities they serve and undoubtedly live up to a prophecy made during the 1950s: ‘What the future holds for this type of banking service ... we are unable to say, but, undoubtedly, we are providing something which is very worthwhile and which may, as the years go by and our presence becomes more widely known, develop, as many of the past innovations of the Royal Bank have done, into a necessary, everyday, expected service of the Bank’.