Apprentice's application, 1873

NatWest Group History 100 object 17: letter from a boy applying for an apprenticeship with Commercial Bank of Scotland, 1873.

'Sir, As I am desirous to obtain employment in a Bank, I beg respectfully to solicit your favourable consideration of my application. I will be fourteen years of age on the second of next month...' In the late 19th century all Scottish banks received many letters like this one. It was well known that employers all over the world would gladly take on a young man with a background in Scottish banking, and many of the boys who secured apprenticeships later emigrated to work in banks across the globe. Some rose to the very top of their profession, and helped to shape the development of banking in nations all over the world.

In Britain at least, joint-stock banks - that is, banks organised as large shareholder-owned companies - were a Scottish invention. When English, Welsh and Irish joint stock banks began to be formed from the 1820s onwards, mimicking the long-standing approach in Scotland, the new structure was sometimes called 'the Scotch system'. It was natural that they would seek managers with relevant experience, and they looked towards Scottish banks to find them.

Within a generation, Scottish bankers were in demand across the English-speaking world. Scottish bank men developed a reputation as well-trained, frugal, industrious workers, and remained in demand, giving banking in many nations a distinctly Scottish accent. It has been estimated that in 1912 around two thirds of all employees of Canadian banks were Scottish-born.

Scottish bankers were in demand across the English-speaking world

Among the bankers who found career success far from their Scottish beginnings were James Berwick Forgan, who started out as an apprentice in the Royal Bank of Scotland in the 1860s and rose to become President of First National Bank of Chicago and a director of the Chicago Reserve Bank; George Gatt, who served an apprenticeship with Commercial Bank of Scotland and eventually became Assistant General Manager of Standard Bank of South Africa; and James Muir, also a Commercial Bank apprentice, who went on to be General Manager of Royal Bank of Canada.

Muir, for one, was acutely aware of the excellent start his Scottish apprenticeship had given him. Later in life, he reminisced about how, arriving in Canada in 1910, he was delighted and relieved to find Canadian banking practices so similar to those he had learnt in Scotland. Looking back over his career, he reflected that 'Till the end of my time I shall always be grateful that my first and the most formative years of my banking life were spent in the Commercial'.