Bank salaries in 1914 | RBS Remembers

RBS remembers

Bank salaries in 1914

Staff in the bill room of Manchester & District Banking Co, 1910s


On the eve of war in 1914, banking was seen as a respectable lower-professional class career, suitable for the sons of managers, shopkeepers and clergymen. Very occasionally graduates went to work for banks, usually going straight into specialist head office roles, but the vast majority of boys entered the banks as apprentices aged 16 or 17, or 15 in the case of Scottish banks. They had to be bright, good at maths and English, with neat handwriting and a reasonable grasp of more general topics such as geography or history.

An apprentice in an English or Welsh bank would start on an annual salary of £20 or £30. The Scottish banks tended to pay less, particularly at the junior end of the scale. A new apprentice in Scotland – who would also be younger than his English counterpart – could start on as little as £10 a year, although £15 was more common. In comparison, an unskilled builder could expect to earn over £64 a year, and a cotton factory worker around £52. The low wage took into account the idea that the apprentice was receiving a valuable education as part of the deal. His salary would increase in subsequent years, rising to around £50 in England and Wales or £25 in Scotland.

After three or four years of apprenticeship, those that the bank wished to keep on staff would be promoted to clerkships. In Scotland, the most junior clerks could still be on as little as £30, whereas in National Provincial Bank of England, one of our biggest English constituent banks, the minimum rate for a clerk was £80. From there on, salaries would rise in response to a range of factors. In bigger banks, there tended to be defined pay scales, which calculated raises on the basis of length of service, size of branch and level of responsibilities. Smaller banks, where even the senior managers knew all their staff by name, took decisions on a case-by-case basis. By his mid-twenties, an English bank clerk could usually expect his salary to be between £100 and £130. His Scottish counterpart’s salary would still lag behind, but less than in earlier years.

Most banks forbade their clerks from marrying until their salaries reached a certain level, representing what they believed was enough to support a family. The rate varied from bank to bank, but was in the region of £120; double the 23 shillings of weekly income that was said to constitute the poverty line for a family of two adults and three children. It effectively barred bank workers from marrying before their late twenties.

When a bank worker’s salary reached £160, he became liable for income tax, which was payable at a rate of 6% above that figure. This would have affected branch and department managers and perhaps their deputies, but not low or middle-ranking clerks. Most banks paid the income tax on their employees’ salaries.  


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