Personal Finance: Secure Trust Bankers to 100,000 Households; John Cranage Reports on a Remarkable Bank That Plays an Important Role for Its Loyal Cutsomers

Article excerpt

Byline: John Cranage

For many thousands of Midlanders, Secure Trust Bank has become virtually their own household financial controller.

It pays their bills, insures their homes, cars and pets, arranges their holidays and if the worst happens, helps them get out of debt.

And from early 2003 it will sell them their new homes.

The Solihull-based bank, which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, pioneered the one-stop shop concept of organising family finances and because of its experience and expertise still has the market virtually to itself.

Secure Trust Bank is the biggest subsidiary of Secure Trust Banking Group, which includes the 169-year-old City of London merchant bank Arbuthnot Latham and its best know product is Secure Homes, the household bill payment service.

Secure Homes grew out of an idea developed after the Second World War by Birmingham estate agent Dennis Ellis. He realised that many of his customers were first-time house buyers who were moving out of rented homes and who had no experience of budgeting for expenses such as rates and electricity and gas bills.

He tested the water for a service that would roll all of a household's regular bills into one regular weekly payment and ensure that they were paid on time on new housing estate in Stechford in 1952.

Mr Ellis, now 82 and living in retirement on the Isle of Man, says: 'Initially I obtained customers by cold calling at households where we had acted as agents for the vendor.'

Mr Ellis's Secure Homes business was incorporated as a company in 1954 and grew rapidly.

By the early 1960s a number of would-be rivals had come and gone, and ironically it was the collapse of one of them that gave a boost to Secure Homes.

The crash was 'accompanied by fairly widespread media comment,' said Mr Ellis.

'I received a call from The Birmingham Post and was asked if we were likely to go the same way.

'The reporter asked if he could visit us and make an inspection of our operation.

'The visit took place and all aspects of our activities were discussed and the resultant article gave further respectability and approval to our operations.'

Explaining the success of Secure Homes, Keith Deakin, joint managing director of Secure Trust Bank, said: 'Most people were weekly paid, cash in hand on a Friday, and those who were starting to buy houses for the first time were not used to paying irregular bills - they could not budget.

'The concept was really developing the jar on the mantelpiece.' His co-MD, Derek Pearson said: 'The reason competitors' services didn't work was because they suffered from the same flaw. …