Lloyds Bank 250th Anniversary Advert

Aren’t banks great? They give you money and all sorts – and all they ask is that they are able to make money from the cash that we bank with them. It’s almost utterly altruistic on their part. God bless banks – and bank adverts.

As this advert, released in time to celebrate Lloyds’ 250th anniversary, tells us, they’re there through good times and bad – you know, the times when they mis-sell PPI, launder money and attract more complaints to the financial ombudsman man than any other bank. Good old Lloyds!

And the good old Lloyds bank horse – representing how the brand is, er, horselike. And, just like horses, they’ve been helping the British people over the last 250 years, whether they’re moving stuff, jumping over stuff or stepping on landmines on a French battlefield. Just like banks, when you think about it.

In any case, the black horse is one of the more recognisable financial brands – much more than Barclays’ eagle or Halifax’s big H. So it kinda makes sense that they’re bringing it back in this advert. Nothing like a spot of recognition of a well-known avatar, after all.

Except that’s bollocks really. On a personal level I have never had any meaningful interaction with a black horse, nor Lloyds. Nor any bank. They’re a necessary – if unloved – facet of the modern world, like insurance, comparison websites and the booze that helps to numb the pain of it all.

I view the prospect of going to bank for absolutely any reason to be an exercise in Computer-Says-No frustration, long queues and being vaguely patronised. Frankly, that’s how everyone feels when they go into a bank – and people who work in banks tend to belong to one of the few remaining professions that seem to require a combination of curtness, uselessness and rank condescension.

I recently went to a bank to pay in two old 50 quid notes to be told – I kid you not – that I’d have to take them to the Bank of England on Threadneedle Street, in person. This turned out to be as incorrect as it was absurd, but it’s par for the course in terms of how unhelpful banks tend to be.

What’s more, that black horse really doesn’t engender much good will. Banks are about as toxic as politicians these days in the public’s affections – ranked somewhere between ketamine psychosis and James Corden – so the appearance of the Lloyds horse is some magnitudes behind the likes of Tony The Tiger and the Smash robots as far as eliciting positive emotions go.

The use of the black horse here is rather like scheduling a Heroes of Comedy season on UK Gold, featuring interviews with the late Les Dawson, Rik Mayall and Peter Cook – but interspersed with monologues from George Osborne announcing benefit cuts to disabled people. It either misunderstands how virtually everyone views banks and bankers – or it simply doesn’t care. It’s like ISIS selling the sort of merchandise you see in a National Trust shop – erasers, jams and tea-towels – Tesco sending you its mixtape or The Conservative Party making its own pornographic DVDs.

Banks have utterly lost the public’s trust, through their own horrible behaviour. They have shafted us, cheated us, lied to us again and again – and the only conclusion we can come to, since they have done it again and again, is that they’re utterly unrepentant. And they offer glossy adverts in return. It’s like someone stealing your life savings, writing off your car and burning down your house, then commiserating with an offer to buy you a pint with your own cash.

No doubt someone somewhere has been pointing to a Powerpoint display with the phrase ‘recapturing trust’ and ‘restating values’ next to a picture of a black horse, while Lloyds boffins nod and chew their expensive pens. And everyone involved in it – bosses, marketers, foot soldiers, consumers and regulators – know this dishonest advertising to be a massive lie on every level. It’s a sticking plaster over a wound so ragged, festering and grievous – bailouts, bonuses, scandal, rigging; the things that have defined banks over the last decade – that it amounts to a colossal affront to everyone’s intelligence. An appalling insult to terrible injury. The threat is barely implicit: let us do what we want, bail us out, leave us alone. If we go down we’re taking you with us.

If you want a metaphor involving a horse to demonstrate the balance of power between the banks and us, don’t think of a billowing, rippling steed running through Kent. Imagine waking up to a severed equine head under your duvet.

Bank Adverts: The Biggest Lies Told On Television

Banks do not care about you. They don’t care about your hopes and dreams, nor do they care about your inability to pay the mortgage or your anger over the latest unfair charge they’ve levied on you. Banks only care about your money; making more of it is their only metric. None of them: not NatWest, Barclays, HSBC, Santander, nor Lloyds. Banks do not give a fuck about you.

I’m wary of falling into the trap of dismissing hundreds of thousands of people who might work for banks with one fell swoop. No doubt many of them are good, honest, honourable people. But frankly many are demonstrably not good, nor honourable, nor honest. The system in which they work has been perverted to reward bad behaviour and see customers simply in terms of their collateral. Politicians, business, media and even our own sense of what material possessions we think we should have are to blame for this. None of us are innocent but the sheer hypocrisy of the public face of the sector is, however, demonstrated through bank adverts.

Oh, look, it’s that Pink Ladies advert by HSBC, wanking on about how they’re the world’s local bank and aligning themselves with dreams coming true. HSBC, who has been using a subsidiary to help clients (including its own boss) conceal undeclared Swiss bank accounts – and therefore evade or avoid tax – and provided services to criminals and corrupt businessmen.

HSBC, helping very rich people dodge the tax that pays for hospitals, nurseries, libraries and police. Good old HSBC. The world’s local bank. The bank that has the gall to say ‘together, we advance’. Obviously some advance more equally than others in their worldview.

Oh, hello Barclays – LOOK AT THE HAMSTERS! Barclays, fined hundreds of millions of pounds for rigging the Libor rate, which determined interest rates for you and I, governments and businesses and potentially ruining them. ‘You-shaped banking’. Fuck-you-shaped banking.

Ah, RBS – owners of NatWest – who hand out multi-million quid allowances to top bankers in an effort to dodge bonus caps and sack hundreds of British workers in preference for Indian call-centre staff. And let’s not forget Forex, the rigging of foreign exchange rates to personal advantage. ‘Helpful banking’.

Santander. ‘Simple, Personal, Fair’. Santander, which set aside the best part of a billion quid to pay for a PPI mis-selling scandal. No doubt, if you’re on the receiving end it does feel rather personal. Of course, Santander also used to go under the strapline “Together. We are Santander”. Add a parenthetical “And You’re Not” onto the end of it and it sounds rather more true to life.

Lloyds: take your pick. Libor, junk-product misselling, PPI. “Moments matter,” they say. Homes, pets, your time. And those moments where staff were ‘lavished with bonuses and champagne for selling baffling products called ‘interest rate swaps’ to small firms alongside loans’ that threatened their livelihoods’.

My point is not that these specific banks must be destroyed, but that this is one case when you hate the player every bit as much as you hate the game. Banks are not simply faceless edifices nor cackling, baby-eating lunatics, any more than they are the friendly ‘we-just-want-to-help’ organisations they portray themselves as. But there are individuals and small groups of incredibly rich people at all of these banks who chose to make themselves richer at the expense of ‘ordinary’ people – either by directly ripping them off, tampering with interest rates to their own benefit, and the potential cost of others, or by attempting to cheat countries out of tax legally owed by incredibly rich people. However you want to portray that, it’s utterly filthy, corrupt and immoral behaviour.

These are not rogue traders: It’s endemic – the result of people who feel they are untouchable and have a right to do whatever they want, egged on by a ideology-driven government that wants to protect their right to makes as much money as possible and seems indifferent to whether this is done legally or not. Why else would HMRC refuse to prosecute HSBC clients for tax evasion or avoidance when it knew of over 1,100 and prosecuted just one? Why not employ more people to chase tax evaders, why not take a harder line with tax evaders, why not bring the weight of government to bear on people behaving illegally to the enormous detriment of the nation and its people?

Every time you see one of these adverts – where they pretend they give a toss about you; pretend they’re just the friendly neighbourhood bank teaching you how to answer emails and letting your Granny cash her pension – remind yourself of these facts.

They nearly destroyed the country. With their greed and arrogance and blindness they nearly bankrupted the entire country. And, faced with no alternative, we bailed them out, whereupon they tried to fuck us and our country again and again in their efforts to make themselves and obscenely rich people even richer. At my expense, at your expense.

Banks don’t hate you, you don’t matter enough. Their attitude to you is halfway between indifference and contempt. NatWest had the balls to make this explicit recently in their advert about teaser-rate credit cards where they acknowledge that banks try to screw you over with dodgy fees hidden behind insincere smiles and small print. But already, just a few years on from nearly wrecking the whole system in their blind greed, banks are making noises about how we shouldn’t criticise them, lest we endanger their business, even as massive fraud after massive fraud comes to light. And we seem to be prepared to shrug our shoulders and let them off the hook – perhaps we feel that we don’t have any meaningful power.

It’s insane. But the system we live in is insane. Move your bank account, write to your MP, sign a petition, open your window and scream “I’m as mad as Hell and I’m not going to take it anymore,” if it makes you feel better. But take heed. Bank adverts are the biggest lies told on television – that lie is that they view you as anything other than a means of making money – and their behaviour condemns them by demonstrating that neither law nor morality stands in their way.

Natwest teaser-rate advert

Know thine enemy.