Object 99: Mobile bank film, 1979

Shot from the film 'A Portrait of the Royal Bank', 1979, showing a mobile bank in action

Shot from the film 'A Portrait of the Royal Bank', 1979, showing a mobile bank in action

This film, A Portrait of the Royal Bank, was made in 1979 to give an overview of the activities, services and commitments underlying the bank's identity. It was inevitable that a mobile bank would feature prominently. National Bank of Scotland, which had been operating a mobile bank service since 1946, had subsequently become part of the Royal Bank, and the bank remained proud of its long-standing commitment to this unusual but important service.

Like many innovations that have entered everyday life, the beginnings of the mobile bank lay in the extraordinary conditions of wartime. During the Second World War the United States Army used a Studebaker van as a mobile pay office, distributing wages to soldiers stationed in Scotland. When the soldiers went home at the end of the war the van was no longer needed, but National Bank of Scotland saw an opportunity. It bought the van, refitted it with office furniture and cash boxes, and unveiled its first bank on wheels.

On the Isle of Lewis, most of the island's famous tweed weavers worked at looms in their own homes, many of which were in isolated areas. Crofters, too, lived and worked on their own land. For these people, visiting the bank meant using up precious hours of the working day travelling to Stornoway, the island's main town. The new mobile bank, however, brought the bank to their own doorsteps, allowing them to do their banking quickly, easily, and without wasting time.

One of the bank's earliest mobile units, c.1950.

The concept soon spread far and wide. Scotland was by no means the only nation with remote populations, and before long banks in Africa, Europe, India, Israel, New Zealand and the United States of America contacted National Bank of Scotland, asking for advice about starting a mobile bank service of their own.

Today, more than 70 years later, mobile banks remain popular across Britain and Ireland. It is true that newer technologies have given customers more ways to bank without having to go to a branch. Nevertheless, there remains something very special about the bank on wheels.