Led by Alisdair Dewar, Coutts returns to Scotland and aims to uphold its global reputation through its trusted business relationships, enhanced services, family-feel and real world branches
By Kim McAllister
A mere 329 years after its young Scottish founder, John Campbell, set up the goldsmith-banker in London, Coutts has returned to Scotland.
It may have a reputation as the quintessentially English private bank, but the Duke of Argyll was one of its first customers and the other two founding families, the Middletons and the Coutts, also hailed from Scotland.
“Angela Burdett-Coutts, Thomas Coutts’ granddaughter, was a philanthropist who actually commissioned the Greyfriars Bobby fountain and statue – I walk past it almost every day of my life,” said Alisdair Dewar, the new Head of Coutts in Scotland.
He’s no stranger to banking, having quit university after one year in favour of the cash desk at his local RBS branch in Stirling. For the past 22 years he has worked his way up the ladder at Adam and Company, whose sale earlier this year led to the transfer of private banking clients over to Coutts. The wealth management arm was purchased by Canaccord Genuity for £54 million.Given that clients are expected to have at least £1m in investments and £750,000 in lending, it’s a vote of confidence in the Scottish economy.
“I think we’ve seen the success in Scottish businesses and entrepreneurs, and I genuinely believe that we are a successful country,” Dewar said.
“I think we keep that to ourselves a lot. We hide our light under a bushel at times, and I think across the country we should rightly celebrate the businesses and entrepreneurs that are behind our success. So I very much believe that we are in a position to look after those clients.”
Following his appointment in October, Dewar’s main priority has been reaching out to the Adam and Company clients and reassuring them that they will have enhanced services under the Coutts brand.
Perhaps the most attractive new tool will be the multi-currency debit card, which can be used in 15 countries across the world. The three Adam and Company offices in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow will be retained as the personal service remains a key part of the offer.
“We’ve been doing a lot of listening sessions with the clients,” Dewar said. “They want to hear what’s in it for them, what’s in it for us and actually who’s still part of the team, who do they know or not know. From an Adam perspective, we had that family-feel, and we can replicate that by keeping all the things clients love, like the branches.”
Clients can also look forward to a new app, with everything in one place, as well as other enhanced services that come with being part of the larger Coutts brand. Wider lending services include the recently launched residential property service and the NatWest investment offering.
With banking undergoing such profound changes since the 2008 crash and the new pressure being felt from challenger banks, Coutts has focused on innovation to stay relevant. It was recently awarded B Corp status, meaning it has satisfied the criteria to meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. The B Corp community is seen as a ‘force for good’ in the business world and Coutts is the first bank and wealth manager in the UK to achieve the status.
“It shows that big organisations can do it and allows us to use our position with our clients to try and positively influence clients and get them to come on the B Corp journey with us,” Dewar said.
“That sort of sustainability and socially responsible aspect to you that goes with the B Corp status will hopefully influence the marketplace positively.”
In the wake of COP26, the pressure is on all businesses to explain their environmental policies to consumers and hit emissions targets by 2030 and 2050. The scale of change required in certain sectors has made some companies wary of making big announcements, and there is the risk of ‘greenwashing’ instead of effecting lasting and effective change. Coutts is keen to underline its efforts over the past five years, in particular screening all its investments for Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG).
“It’s not something that we’ve just started doing, you know, we believed it was the right thing to do back then and we’ve been proven right,” Dewar said.
“We still have a long way to go, we’ll reduce carbon emissions by up to 25% this year of the funds that we’re managing. There are no ‘green funds’ in the investment space, they’re all looked at through an ESG lens. Similarly, in the lending space, we offer green mortgages, which help and encourage clients to have more efficient housing.”
With over £35 billion under management, Coutts is also working with Federated Hermes, which has allowed them to engage with more than 500 companies across the UK, Europe and North America. It helps them hold boards to account and has resulted in voting on over 14,000 resolutions where climate, sustainability and diversity and inclusion are concerned. Since 2019 it has seen 30% average carbon reduction in equity investments and is a member of Net Zero Asset Managers Initiative.
“It’s really important to us that if we are investing, we want to know what we are investing in and what the strategies are. You can’t just switch everything off straight away, it has to be gradual, but I think holding yourselves to short term targets, as well as those 2030 and 2050 targets, is really important.”
Adam and Company clients will be transitioned over to Coutts in summer 2022, subject to court approval and while this is ongoing, communication is going to be key to establishing the brand north of the border.
The TV ad for Coutts – “Real people doing things their own way” – seeks to highlight the accessibility of a bank that has always valued entrepreneurs and family businesses, while the retention of the three offices will allow the company to target all areas of the country. The gaming and technology sectors are attractive but Dewar is keen to stress that the bank isn’t targeting by sector, rather by individual whose financial situation would allow them to find value in the Coutts service offer.
“I am really excited to get the clients those services that are going to be available to them because I think it’s quite a gamechanger,” Dewar said.
“Some of those are really basic level and for others it’s much wider and will actually better meet their financial needs and requirements. I think that financial education for the next generation is something that we can really add value to. I’m looking forward to getting back out and around the offices and meeting more and more clients. We’ve done some listening sessions in the branches and I got the train down from Aberdeen and it was full, it was great to see.
“The exciting part is telling them the story of what you can expect to get from becoming part of Coutts.”