Yesterday my father and I lunched on the edge of the Goodwood estate in West Sussex in a party of four. Whilst I was driving him to the engagement he recounted a story that I had not heard previously.
On the occasion in question, in the late 1960s, as a relatively youthful partner in his accountancy firm, my father was auditing a major bank. He suspected he had taken a bad decision and wished to get some advice from a senior colleague.
Having risen up two floors in the lift and ignoring the secretary, who claimed that the senior colleague had given instructions not to be disturbed, my father knocked on his door, strode in and announced that he needed some help. The man in question – not just a grandee of the firm but of the entire British accountancy profession, later a peer of the realm – immediately discarded his visage of thunder at being interrupted, slid his papers and files to one side, and gave the matter his full attention.
Having listened to my father’s sorry tale and concerns, he spoke as only a senior colleague who has seen it all before can, giving off a reassuring vibe that there was really nothing to worry about.
“My dear boy, you should have realised by now that banks are the only organisations in Britain who are entitled to produce fraudulent accounts“.
(At the time [I do not know whether the same is true in 2014], banks were allowed to maintain ‘secret reserves’, hidden both from the taxman and their own shareholders).