British private bank Coutts built its iconic reputation as the bankers to the British royal family. Just as its global CEO, Rory Tapner, took command earlier this year, it was slapped with a $14m fine for money laundering malpractices. As the bank expands its Middle East operations, he outlines why wealthy Arab individuals are not letting this tarnish its 300 year-old legacy
Last year was tough year to be rich. Europe’s community of ultra high net worth individuals (UHNWs) shrunk by 1.9 percent to 53,440, while their total wealth dropped 2.7 percent to $6,950bn.
You don’t need too many guesses to understand why Europe’s richest are suffering as the words eurozone and crisis have become ever present on TV stations and newspaper covers across the world.
Those in the Middle East fared a little better and the 4,595 UHNW individuals with riches of over $30m saw their pool of wealth only drop by 1.3 percent to $710bn.
As a result, wealth management firms are clamouring to get access to the cash-rich Arabs and expatriates living tax-free in the region. However, at a time when the wealthy may have turned to the banks to help stem the losses, it was also proving to be a bad time to be a bank, with scandals hitting some of the biggest names in the business.
Barclay’s found to be manipulating interest rates, the US Senate committee accused HSBC of operating a money-laundering conduit for “drug kingpins and rogue nations” and Standard Chartered was singled out by American financial investigators for making billions of pounds worth of transactions for the Iranian regime.
One of the lenders looking to persuade Arab clients to turn to them is Coutts, the 300 year-old British bank which counts Queen Elizabeth II among its clientele. Its executives believe the Coutts brand is one which has stood the test of time.
“It is an iconic, instantly recognisable brand and anyone who sees it will know it, they might not know exactly what we do but they will immediately say ‘banker to the Queen’, so there is an instant recognition,” Rory Tapner, the bank’s global CEO says in an interview while on a visit to Dubai.
“This is a bank that looks after the wealthy… We didn’t lose people in the crisis as we are very conservative… It is our job to find the clients but in our case it is 50:50: 50 percent find us,” says Tapner.
He goes on to state that, unlike his peers, “post-2008 crisis, the Coutts brand came out untarnished.” Unfortunately, while Coutts may not have lost its clients any money, its brand has indeed been tarnished by a scandal earlier this year which was a shock to the industry, and probably a lot of its clients.
The bank was fined £8.75m ($14m) in March by the UK’s Financial Services Authority (FSA) for “significant and widespread” failings in its money laundering controls, its second fine for financial malpractices in a matter of four months.
Article continued on next page