It is often said that farmers get divorced more often than they change banks. In that respect, I’m not your typical farmer – no one ties a free spirit like me to a bank that easily. While I’ve been married to the same woman for 16 years, over the same period I’ve flirted with more banks than Alistair Darling has had to rescue over the past few months.
But, as the financial crisis deepens, I am getting the unsettled feeling that I’m going to have to be a lot more considerate towards my financial backers in future. If the current trend continues, by the end of this year UK farmers will have over £10bn borrowed for the first time – just as bank liquidity has hit the biggest crisis in living memory. In other words, UK farmers’ relationship with their lenders has never been more important or loaded with potential difficulty.
For me, this is not good news because I have always prided myself on treating bank managers with disdain. Over the years, I’ve had great sport playing one off against another. The moment one flashed me a lower borrowing rate, I was off quicker than you could say “APR”. The minute I was shown a coy introductory “first six months with no transaction fees” offer, I’d switch to a new lender without a second thought for the scorned “bowler-hatted-bookmaker” I’d left behind.
But now it looks horribly like I’m going to have to moderate this roving jack-the-lad behaviour. Although it breaks the habit of a farming lifetime, and runs against the grain, the ghastly prospect of bank monogamy is staring me in the face. As they become less numerous through takeovers, amalgamation or even part state ownership, banks are also likely to become more choosy about whom they’ll lend to. With their own liquidity in such crisis, they’ll demand a return to trusting, long-standing, open business relationships. My “love-’em-and-leave-’em” approach looks completely out of tune with these conservative times.
Our austere son of a Presbyterian minister Prime Minister is hardly helping matters. Confound him, but Gordon Brown will keep going on about “responsible entrepreneurship”, “upholding values which the market alone cannot generate”, “good society” and even “the morals that markets need”. With him setting such a prudish tone, how am I going to be able to swagger into a bank, flaunt my net assets around, and be confident that I’ll be given everything I ask for in the way of a borrowing facility? The PM needs to pipe down with his tedious notions that “trust can only be built by shared values” and that responsible lending must not “cross the line”. The man’s seriously starting to cramp my style.
My overdraft is soon up for review and, like a lot of farmers, my limit may have to be increased. Like the financial Casanova that I am, I’m not looking forward to the discussion. I’ve the sneaking feeling that, over the usual coffee and biscuits, I’m not going to be able to use my easy charm to avoid being tied down to a long-term loan commitment rather than the free-and-easy overdraft that I prefer.
This year I won’t be able to throw a tantrum and threaten to go elsewhere – there is no “elsewhere”. Instead, whatever financial vow I’m invited to sign up to, I’ll have to smile through gritted teeth and declare my everlasting loyalty and long-term commitment to my much-loved bank. How romantic.