In its efforts to raise money, the government realised that even small sums would be vital if it could attract enough of them. It appointed a committee to consider war finance in relation to small investors. The committee reported in January 1916, and its recommendations included the formation of a network of local war savings associations.
In April 1916 national war savings committees were set up for England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland. They promoted the formation of local associations, which took responsibility for encouraging savings activities in their community. Within a year, thousands were in operation. The movement struck a particular chord in Scotland, with over 800 associations being set up in Lanarkshire alone.
The pressing focus was on raising money for the war, but there was also a longer-term ambition. Many of the movement’s supporters wanted to encourage saving among sections of the population who, thanks to rising wages, had a disposable income for the first time in their lives. Many of these workers were said to be wasting their money on frivolous spending, and would be much better off in the long run if they learnt to save instead. Thus the savings movement had a moral motive as well as a patriotic one, and was destined to retain its importance long after the end of the war.
Savings associations often looked to the local bank manager to provide financial expertise, just as community-based charities always had done. With encouragement from head office, many managers lent their support to establishing and promoting associations, and aided the preparation of the necessary audited accounts.
At the highest level, the savings movement depended on bankers. Alexander Kemp Wright, cashier of The Royal Bank of Scotland, joined the Scottish committee at its inception in 1916. He remained a leading member after the war, when its focus shifted to the personal advantages of saving. He was a frequent speaker at savings conferences and events, and in the 1920s sat on two Treasury select committees as a savings expert. By his death in 1933 he was the only remaining founder-member of the Scottish Savings Committee.
Despite the name, 'Business Men's Week' was aimed at all business owners, both male and female. It was also two weeks long.
The associations worked continuously to sell war savings certificates, war loan stock and war bonds, but found that the best results were achieved by one-off campaigns targeted at particular communities or professions. One such campaign was ‘Business Men’s Week’ in March 1918. Despite the name, this campaign was aimed at business owners, both male and female; it was also two weeks long. As part of the campaign, bank managers wrote to their business customers, urging them to take part. They also published daily progress reports on the campaign’s results.
After the war the banks learnt a lesson from the national savings movement, and began to work much harder to cater for small savers, providing products such as ‘home safe’ accounts, which made savings accounts available to people who could only afford to save a little at a time.