How do you tell someone they’ve become a millionaire? Well, that’s my job. I’m Agent Million, one of the National Savings and Investments (NS&I) employees who gets to tell Premium Bonds winners they’ve hit the million-pound jackpot.
If you’re one of the two people chosen by ERNIE, our random number generator, every month to be a £1m winner in the Premium Bonds draw, you’re treated to the personal touch. No letter or email with the good news. In normal times, when you win £1m on the Premium Bonds, you get a knock on the door from me or one of my colleagues on the Agent Million team. But during the pandemic, we’ve had to find other ways to deliver this welcome news. We’ve planned for scenarios like this and have various options we use.
When I used to arrive in person, I wasn’t carrying a big cheque or a bag of cash. Most often I’d sit people down, calmly break the news, and help them believe it has really happened. The most common thing I’d hear was: “Is this real?” That, and winners asking me to identify myself again to be sure it wasn’t a joke.
Everyone reacts differently. Some burst into tears. Others are euphoric, jumping up and down. Many are just dumbfounded. I had one winner who sat in stunned silence while his springer spaniel jumped all over me in excitement. But one thing that’s true of everyone is they hardly sleep that night.
Discretion is a very important part of the job. When I’m preparing to let a winner know their good news, our team in our office in Blackpool makes sure that I have the correct information to check who they are so that we know we are speaking to the right person. If I am visiting, I dress to blend in with the environment – we never draw attention to ourselves or alert the neighbours that anything is out of the ordinary. I drive past the winner’s home before I knock on the door, so I know exactly where I’m going, as well as checking to see if there are any cars in front of the property or lights on.
Of course, when we set out to break the news – whatever way we’re doing it – there’s always the chance that people are not at home. But it’s important to let them know as soon as possible after the draw takes place. So we keep trying, and use a range of means to try to make contact. We want to get the money into the winner’s account on the first working day of the month.
One thing is true: we always find the winner. Since the million-pound prize was introduced in 1994, we’ve never once failed to deliver the top prize. On one occasion, a winner wouldn’t let me into the house because they weren’t convinced everything was above board. I ended up going through paperwork in their back garden before they finally invited me in. I was just glad it wasn’t raining.
But once people do grasp the situation, the bond of trust develops very quickly. Often, they want me to go with them to visit their bank manager or the financial planning adviser we introduce to winners who want advice about what to do with their money. I’m always happy to do so. And lots of people stay in touch. We even get Christmas cards from some previous winners. ERNIE gets letters and cards from Premium Bond holders who’ve been lucky in the past.
Even though I’ve been Agent Million for five years and have let more than 30 customers know they’ve won £1m, I get nervous every time. You never know what you’re going to encounter when you knock on a door and you don’t know how someone will respond. Emotions run very high when you’re told you’ve got £1m coming your way unexpectedly. I try not to show my nerves and contain my own feelings, even if people’s reactions are really moving, which they often are.
You have to be empathetic to do this job. Once, I was telling a young man that he’d won one of January’s £1m prizes and he was in such shock I just asked him if he wanted his mum, who was in the next room. Of course, he did. I’m a parent and I reacted like one.
Being Agent Million is only one part of my job – the rest of the time I’m working with the regular NS&I team. I have to be completely anonymous, so no one knows I do the Agent Million work. I can’t tell my friends. But it’s such a joy and a privilege. Winners often say to me: “You must love your job. I wish I could do your job.” They’re right. I’d do it every single day if I had the opportunity.
Having something to save towards can make putting money aside easier. With the help of NS&I, you can reach your goal too. Visit nsandi.com to find out how you can save for a sunny day