The day Bank of Scotland opened the branch of the future in Kirkcaldy

October 1992: Opening of Bank of Scotland branch at Mitchelston, Kirkcaldy
October 1992: Opening of Bank of Scotland branch at Mitchelston, Kirkcaldy

Banks used to be solemn, austere places.

Wood panelled and silent, save for the sound of a pass book being stamped, we Scots took the business of finance very seriously indeed.

Generations of readers will recall the formality that sat at the heart of getting a mortgage – the bank manager giving his considered thought to each application before granting a loan of no more than three times your salary.

Back then there were no cash dispensing machines, and branches closed early in the afternoon to allow staff the hugely time-consuming process of balancing the ledgers. No-one left until every penny was accounted for.

Technology has transformed the way we bank, and the pace of change is perfectly caught in the Fife Free Press archives of 1992 which announced the opening of the Bank of Scotland’s new branch at Mitchelston.

Today, it is the model for many of the branches in operation, but, back then, it was ground-breaking.

October 1992: Opening of Bank of Scotland branch at Mitchelston, Kirkcaldy - Super Savers launch with Jennifer and Greg Wilson

October 1992: Opening of Bank of Scotland branch at Mitchelston, Kirkcaldy - Super Savers launch with Jennifer and Greg Wilson

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It took the Bank of Scotland out of town – ironic considering most banks have now left town!

October 1992 - opening of new Bank of Scotland branch at Mitchelston, Kirkcaldy: Foreground: David Paterson, senior manager). From left Tom Steel, David McCallum, Jim Duthie, Derek Rolland

October 1992 - opening of new Bank of Scotland branch at Mitchelston, Kirkcaldy: Foreground: David Paterson, senior manager). From left Tom Steel, David McCallum, Jim Duthie, Derek Rolland

The traditional High Street branch, at number 114, remained, but it signalled a shift in how banks were trying to respond to a customer base that was starting to change.

Mitchelston was the first custom-designed branch of its kind in Scotland.

In a two-page advertising feature, David Paterson, senior manager, explained: “To some extent it is a bold move, in that we are taking banking out of town, but the way I see it is we are giving people a choice. Our branch at 114 High Street remains as important to us as ever and is convenient for shoppers, whereas Mitchelston is ideal for those who wish to worry about whether they will be able to park or not.”

The building had two floors, but the one which mattered to folk was the new banking hall on the ground floor which had “spaciousness, simplicity and a common sense layout”.

This, said the Press, is banking as you have never seen before – “the result of careful study and research by the bank into what customers want and expect. A modern branch which sets new standards of service and professionalism in relaxed and comfortable surroundings”.

The bank’s links with Kirkcaldy dated back 200 years – it was previously the British Linen Bank – and Mitchelston came about after it was realised a major refurbishment of the High Street branch still wouldn’t have met the needs of the business.

Moving out of town, next to the relatively new Asda, meant the bank could introduce Kirkcaldy to the world of “lobby banking”.

It sounds almost quaint now, but the advent of cash dispensers, and access to an area even when the bank was closed, were all news.

They were followed by “a sophisticated touch screen terminal for info on mortgages and other services”, while the bank also boasted a “browsing area” where customers could have a coffee, read newspapers and look at a small exhibition of banking memorabilia.

One of the key developments was a “central pod” where customer service officers (CSOs) and other specialists in deposits, travel, safekeeping, insurance and investments were based.

“They receive no incoming phone calls, which means no interruptions whilst they are talking to you,” said the Press.

Around them were 10 cash points – new fangled machines where staff used a “computerised transaction process”, which meant handing over your keycard (remember them?) to withdraw cash which was handed across by the teller.

CSOs were also mobile – “don’t be surprised if the person who serves you in the High Street pops up at Mitchelston the next week or indeed the branches in Dysart, Kinghorn and the Victoria Hospital”.

That culture change was significant too.

Graeme Fraser, senior manager with responsibility for regional training, said: “This is the first time we have trained an entire branch. Our objective was to develop communication skills as far as possible, and to encourage all staff to work together as a team.

“Customers’ needs dictate what we do; we have to be able to understand what they want, and ensure this is provided efficiently.”

The Press added that staff had “cheerfully” given up weekends to build their skills ahead of the October opening of the new flagship branch.