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A Guide to Banking in Fantasyland

This article may contain mild spoilers – though not what I would consider story-breaking spoilers – for The Folding Knife by K.J. Parker, Making Money by Terry Pratchett and Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie.

bank by HamsterflyThese are tough times, and everyone needs a little help with the big decisions. Not sure which bank to choose? Sure, the Charity and Social Justice Bank [1] has an impressive name, but those offers at Valint and Balk [2] are really tempting. Perhaps Gringotts’ [3] goblin efficiency has caught your eye, or the great interest rates at the Royal Bank of Ankh-Morpork? [4] Then again, the long standing stability of the Iron Bank of Braavos [5] is looking pretty good right now…

Hard decisions? Never fear! We are here with a handy guide to finding the RIGHT bank for YOU!

Loans and Savings

Loans and savings seem to be on everyone’s mind right now. How do you find the best place to raise the sum to hire those extra few sellswords? Where do you invest your hard-pillaged gold?

Best Served Cold (cover)As anyone who has seen the result of the magic words, “I have an understanding with The Banking House of Valint and Balk” can tell you, there is a great deal of power in waving about that official piece of paper. Approach the bank with your requested amount and some form of guarantee (we cannot condone the offering of an antidote to a pre-administered lethal poison, though we have found this generally works wonders) and find out how much YOU can borrow today!

Bad credit rating? Are angry taverns and gambling dens across the land offering free room and board for your head on a pike? Out of all the banks we have listed, The Charity and Social Justice Bank is the most lenient in its lending policies. Indeed, many people are beginning to give this bank the side eye, worrying that it is pushing its luck considerably.

An anonymous source at the bank, tells us that they are on the brink of becoming over-committed, and that the government, the largest borrower by far, shows no signs of being able to repay their debt in the near or far future. With new schemes every month, the owner sinking funds into his personal ship-yard (some form of mid-life crisis, we wonder?), and the Eastern Empire getting suspiciously friendly of late, we reckon now may be the time to borrow large and borrow fast, and then get the hell out of Vesani before financial collapse and war come calling. We hear that Permia is nice this time of year. Conclusion: not a bank to invest your savings in.

A Game of Thrones (cover)But what about the Iron Bank of Braavos, you ask. We are afraid you may be out of luck here. Our sources confirm that the Iron Bank began calling in outstanding debts and is now refusing all new loans. While interest rates may be high for those wishing to save with this cash-strapped bank, it is likely you will only be pouring money into the chasm left behind by Baratheon and now Lannister debts.

As for Gringotts…? Well, we still have been unable to confirm whether or not Gringotts even grants loans, or whether it is anything more than a glorified safety deposit box for gold and other valuables. Still, the Ministry of Magic must be borrowing from somewhere. More information to follow!

Customer Service

Good customer service is not to be underrated. Need a bank that will go the extra mile for you? Look no further than The Iron Bank of Braavos. Valued customers and potential clients may even be saved from dire circumstances in far off snowy lands, ransoms paid on their behalf, and pledges made to their cause. It is worth noting, however, that while The Iron Bank is more patient than others, it will not grant unswerving loyalty to customers who refuse to pay their debts. Good customer service only goes as far as good customers.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (cover)Gringotts may not be famed for its customer relations, but there is an unshakable efficiency and dedication in Gringotts’ halls that is rarely found elsewhere. Even the poorest clients will receive a basic vault, guaranteed security and a goblin guide. And for the VIP or those with more cash to splash, curse-protected vaults, larger storage space, and prime lots guarded by dragons can be yours.

The other banks on our list are generally polite yet reserved, with the notable exception of the gold-suited and glittery top-hatted showiness of the Royal Bank of Ankh-Morpork, at which you are sure to catch a glimpse of the larger than life Master of the Royal Mint, Moist Von Lipwig, or perhaps shake a paw with the Chairman of the Bank, Mr. Fusspot. If you like your banks eccentric, this is the place for you.

Currency

Bored Making Money (cover)of the same old coins? Some of our banks may offer you just what you didn’t know you’d been looking for. Gringotts asks you, why settle for muggle money when you could have MAGICAL money? This is exactly the same as real money except that it’s made from solid gold, silver or bronze. That’s right folks, you too can enjoy coins that are much heavier and more dangerous to carry around. Sparkly!

But why take a step backwards when you could be part of the future? Yes, we’re talking about paper money, and it’s all the rage in Vesani and Ankh-Morpork. The first run of printed dollar notes in Ankh-Morpork is already selling at fifty times the notes’ value, as collectors are anxious to get their hands on these rare pieces of history in the making. Both Basso at the Charity and Social Justice Bank and Von Lipwig at The Royal Bank of Ankh-Morpork are enthusiastically backing this paper money scheme, much to the dismay of their families and associates. Invest just five dollars today and take away one free paper I.O.U note for the value of one dollar! Did we mention that both these banks are run by former criminals?

Security

If you’re going to invest your time, money and trust in a bank, then you want to know that the cash is safe, don’t you?

The Folding Knife (cover)If it’s security you’re looking for, then the Charity and Social Justice Bank is probably best avoided. Reports tell us that not long ago, thieves waltzed into the City Yard (containing the Mint, the Treasury and the Arsenal), and helped themselves to the city’s gold. While the bank itself may have been untouched, the bank and the government’s funds and administration are far too close for comfort. Although Vesani is currently committed to a mission to retrieve the stolen gold, the lack of adequate security measures in the first place is a sorry sign indeed.

Your trust would perhaps be better placed in The Royal Bank of Ankh-Morpork, with its nameless thing in the cellar, a Chief Cashier who is almost certainly a vampire, and Von Lipwig’s alarming control of an army of golems. And if that’s not enough for you, there is Gringotts, which not only boasts protective spells and curses, magical locks and a labyrinthine warren of passages designed to confuse thieves, but, rumour has it, keeps its very own dragons in the depths where the most expensive vaults are found.

Then again, dragons or no dragons, Gringotts has of recent years had an alarming history of being broken into, including once by three teenagers who managed to best all of the bank’s top security measures. Think Valint and Balk might be the safer option? Think again. Not only did assassins manage to break into one of the branches of this prestigious bank, but in the process they poisoned every ledger in the building, leading to the tragic deaths of many of the bank’s customers the following morning. Open an account here at your own peril.

If you’d rather stick to the good, old-fashioned security methods of blackmail and brutality, then you could do worse than The Iron Bank of Braavos. Just remember, you don’t want to find yourself on the wrong side of these good, old-fashioned methods. The Iron Bank will have its due.

Corruption Rating

For the ethically minded client…well, perhaps you’d be better off putting your money in a sock under the bed. Some of these banks might seem innocent enough, but they have all used their considerable power to enter into political dealings and manipulations. Is The Iron Bank of Braavos about to fan the flames of civil war in order to replace the current ruler of Westeros, all to reclaim its financial debts? We have also heard reports that Valint and Balk offered a large loan without interest in order to support a particular side in a conflict.

Seamless - Gold Coins by BartalonIt gets worse. It would appear that the chairman of The Royal Bank of Ankh-Morpork is regularly taken for walkies by his owner, the real man behind the bank, Moist Von Lipwig. Yes, the very same Moist Von Lipwig who is also in control of the Royal Mint and the Post Office, and is said to be on very good terms with Lord Vetinari, the city’s ruler. Think that’s bad? The owner of the Charity and Social Justice Bank, Basso, is the very same Basso who is currently First Citizen of the Vesani Republic. It would appear that he has been playing shifty games with the two for years.

Which leaves us with Gringotts. Nothing corrupt about a glorified safety deposit box, surely? Think again. Gringotts currently appears to be the only wizarding bank in the United Kingdom. It is therefore a monopoly, in control of all wizarding money in Britain (excepting the aforementioned money in socks under beds). Where does this leave us? It means that if the Ministry of Magic wishes to borrow any money at all (which governments do seem very fond of doing), then they have to go to Gringotts. Similarly with any wizarding businesses and corporations. There are no other banks to check Gringotts’ power, which means this bank is in the position to demand whatever it likes. On top of this, it is also in charge of minting wizard money, and is the only place where wizards can exchange muggle money. Does the bank’s reach extend even beyond the wizarding world? And finally, it would appear that Gringotts are even mounting their own expeditions, looking for artefacts of worth and power:

“Are you seeking a challenging career involving travel, adventure, and substantial, danger-related treasure bonuses? Then consider a position with Gringotts Wizarding Bank, who are currently recruiting Curse-Breakers for thrilling opportunities abroad.” —Pamphlet about careers at Gringotts, given to Hogwarts students

Conclusion: Never underestimate the ambition of bankers. And with that, we will leave you with the words of Moist Von Lipwig, from the Royal Bank of Ankh-Morpork: “It is a game, and it’s an old game called, ‘What can we get away with?’

The Banks and Their Books (all highly recommended reads)

[1] The Charity and Social Justice Bank The Folding Knife, by K.J. Parker
[2] The Banking House of Valint and Balk Best Served Cold (and the First Law Trilogy), by Joe Abercrombie
[3] Gringotts Bank The Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling
[4] The Royal Bank of Ankh-Morpork Making Money (and the Discworld series), by Terry Pratchett
[5] The Iron Bank of Braavos A Song of Ice and Fire series, by George R.R. Martin

This article was originally published on February 12, 2014.

Title image by Hamsterfly.

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A Guide to Banking in Fantasyland, 7.9 out of 10 based on 15 ratings
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6 Comments

  1. Hi Victoria.

    This article is good but is missing one *big* name and series–Daniel Abraham’s THE DAGGER AND THE COIN. With a would be banker (Cithin) as a viewpoint character, and the manipulations of a bank cause for a chunk of the plot, what the bankers do in that series matter, on scales micro and macro.

  2. Great article. It’s good that fantasy is finally waking up to the fact that banks have been around in the RW for at least a thousand years (probably longer) so they’d probably be around in other worlds too.

    I haven’t featured any formal, named banks, but I do have “a man who, besides lending money, also undertook to look after large sums that might be difficult to guard.”

  3. A.E. Marling says:

    I put my trust in dragon security, which is why I store my artifacts and loot at Gringotts. Thank you Gringotts! If it’s not Gringotts, it’s not really locked. (TM)

    And thank you, Vicky Hooper, for writing this fun post.

    • Jonathan Campbell says:

      I would trust Gringotts more if they weren’t broken into in the very first book, to be perfectly frank. Dumbledore trusts them so much he sent Hagrid to take the Stone out of there because he knew this would happen.

      I prefer something more high-tech and inter-planetary. The Intergalactic Banking Clan can see to all your nefarious Sith needs, no matter what part of the galaxy you happen to be in.

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