Strategy

Coutts: The Bank for the Ultra-High Net Worth?

Contributing Editor, 1 October 2005

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Coutts & Co, the London-based private bank, has launched a major initiative to target family businesses throughout the UK, which is designed...

Coutts & Co, the London-based private bank, has launched a major initiative to target family businesses throughout the UK, which is designed to link up the commercial and private parts of its business. WealthBriefing talks to Mark Evans, the man behind the idea, and considers the likelihood of its success.

Two days ago Coutts held its second family business seminar in London one week after the first one in Cambridge. An attendee at the London seminar told WealthBriefing that some of the leading members of family business attended the seminar. “Many familiar names in the world of UK business were there,” he said. “I was very impressed that Coutts managed to gather such a group of people.”

Similar seminars are planned throughout England and Wales in the coming months. And to back up these efforts, the bank is launching the Coutts Prize for Family Business, which will start with a number of regional awards (Central, South, North, and London) followed by the national final to be held in London next June.

To coincide with the launch of the new initiative, Coutts produced a serious piece of research on family businesses, which asked questions such as: Are family businesses better prepared than other businesses to compete in the future? The survey found that they are, although with qualifications.

Coutts has rolled out a number of important people to endorse the initiative and to back the bank’s serious intentions towards understanding the needs of family businesses. Behind the survey were senior professors from leading business schools in the UK, including London Business School. The head of the Institute for Family Business, Grant Gordon also played a major role in the survey.

To chair next year’s awards, Coutts managed to sign up Roger Pedder, chairman of one of the most successful family businesses in the UK, the shoe manufacturer, C&J Clark. Also, heading up the London regional committee for the capital’s awards is Robert Worcester, president of MORI, the polling company, and a well known commentator on British politics.

But the most important man in all of this is Mark Evans, head of the bank’s family business initiative. Mr Evans has been a very busy man since he joined Coutts in April from J P Morgan. In less than six months, the private banker has coordinated a major business initiative – possibly Coutts’ biggest for some time – and managed the bank’s philanthropy efforts, a unit he also heads, into the bargain.

“Yes, I have been busy, but much of the work was made easier through the bank’s already strong links with family businesses,” said Mr Evans.

He added: “Don’t forget, Coutts has been working with family businesses for more than 300 years.”

He also came well prepared to the job. At JP Morgan, Mr Evans launched their family business initiative and annual awards in 2003.

But the long-time private banker - he joined Citigroup in 1976, and worked there for many years as a private banker - is at pains to point out that the two family business awards initiatives are different.

“The idea was not to compete and I think it’s pretty obvious the two are complementary,” said Mr Evans.

The JP Morgan awards are only held at a national level and are targeted at, for the most part, larger family controlled businesses.

But some commentators say Mr Evans has found himself at the right place with the family business initiative at Coutts. “At JP Morgan, he had the right idea, but at the wrong bank, but at Coutts, he has the right idea at the right bank,” according to one private banker familiar with both initiatives, who wanted to remain anonymous.

Michael Maslinski, head of consultancy Maslinski & Co and also on the London regional committee of the Coutts awards agrees that Mr Evans has found the right bank to promote his passion towards serving the interests of family businesses.

“He now has a bigger canvas on which to paint,” said Mr Maslinski. “The initiative will deliver nationwide interest.”

The former Coutts marketing man also believes the bank is playing to its core strength, which had been somewhat neglected for a number of years. “Through this initiative, Coutts is beginning to revive its strength in commercial banking. And by uniting this with its private wealth business, it will create a strong appeal among entrepreneurs.”

Coutts already has probably the biggest team in the country dedicated towards the needs of entrepreneurs. And Mr Evans has been busy educating them on his family business initiative in order to transfer his considerable efforts into paying clients.

“We’ve already seen considerable referral business coming in from these efforts,” said Mr Evans. “Next year should see the pace of growth accelerate that much faster, particularly as the awards process starts.”

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