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Treating clients like royalty - 40 years in Bristol for Coutts

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Written by: Bristol Post | Posted 09 November 2016 11:20

Treating clients like royalty - 40 years in Bristol for Coutts

David Clensy chats to Richard Neville of Coutts, about life working for "the Queen's bank"

EVERYONE knows it as “the Queen’s bank” – but you won’t find the royal crest on the Coutts sign in their plush Queen Square branch in Bristol.

As we chat Richard Neville, South West managing director for Coutts, is stoically unswervable on the question of whether or not Her Majesty is the historic bank’s most high profile client.

While he’s happy to regale me with tales of how Bram Stoker, Charles Dickens and royalty from previous centuries entrusted the bank with their cash, he is admirably discreet in his refusal to divulge the names of any current clients, or in fact any from the past 100 years – and that, it seems, includes heads of state.

I’m meeting Richard to talk through the exclusive three centuries-old bank’s extraordinary story as Coutts celebrates 40 years of having a Bristol branch.

“Back in 1976, Bristol was only the second place to get a Coutts branch outside of London after Eton,” Richard explains.

The bank’s Bristol story began not here in Queen Square, but with a branch in Corn Street – which is where Richard began his career with the firm back in 1997.

“Corn Street was the banking centre of Bristol even then,” he said. “Most banks were represented in the street. Our Corn Street branch was the epitome of the traditional Victorian-style bank – straight out of Mary Poppins,” Richard smiles.

“With great mahogany desks and even an elegantly dressed doorman.

“Back then we all still had to wear frock coats – I remember being measured up for mine when I joined.”

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The timeless, if rather strict nature of the bank that Richard joined even stretched to dictats for staff over the colour of their shirts (they had to have white collars and cuffs) and facial hair was banned.

These days Richard is still cleanly shaven, though he seems to have stretched himself to wearing a blue shirt, and now there are no frock coats in sight.

“Only for special occasions, royal visits and the like,” he says. “Though the frock coats are still worn at our branch in London on The Strand.”

At the turn of the millennium, Coutts left Corn Street for its new home in Queen Square – the former branch is now a Cafe Nero.

Coutts may have only been in Bristol for 40 years, but the Coutts family’s association with the city stretches back much further.
Some 325 years ago, when Coutts was founded, Thomas Coutts and his family were frequent visitors to Bristol, taking the waters at “the Hot Wells”, just as they did in Bath.

Thomas usually stayed in Clifton in a house owned by John Powell, a customer since 1806.

And while sadly Isambard Kingdom Brunel himself was never a Coutts client – his son Henry Marc Brunel, after inheriting his father’s fortune, did entrust it to Coutts.

Today the bank’s presence in Queen Square is a far cry from a familiar branch bank.

With buzzer-entry, and not a cashier in sight, this is clearly the exclusive end of the banking sector – with clients discreetly led across the plush carpet into a private room to do their banking.

To even get an account with Coutts, you need to have a minimum of £1 million of investable cash.

“We concentrate here very much on advising our clients on investment, wealth succession and philanthropy,” Richard explains.

“Very often we will go to visit our clients in their homes or places of work, though many do still come in here.”

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But despite its exclusive atmosphere, Richard says the bank’s presence in Bristol is growing – it now has around 1,000 Bristol clients and has grown every year for the last four decades.

When Richard started he was among a team of three managers and a dozen support staff. Today Coutts has 34 staff members in Queen Square, with 500 further employees working from the Royal Bank of Scotland building in Temple Quay.

Richard says the bank’s growth in Bristol is testament to the growing wealth among its entrepreneurs.

“Interestingly the big shift over last few decades has been in the age of our clients – these days many of the entrepreneurs we advise are fairly young people, which is a reflection of the rise in the digital and media sectors in the city,” he says.

“But many of my clients have been with us for decades – you get to know your clients very well in that time. Indeed, just the other day I was with a fifth generation Coutts client, whose family has been banking with us since the 1860s.”

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