Coutts Bank

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Group.png Coutts Bank  
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Coutts & Co.png
HeadquartersLondon, UK
British private bank with exclusive customer base

Coutts & Co is a British private bank. The business is based on three pillars: investment (including portfolio management, investment advice and fund management), trust and fiduciary and banking services. Coutts is now part of the Wealth Division of the Royal Bank of Scotland. Coutts is the private bank of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II. Many millionaires are also customers, so that in 2011 the market share among wealthy people in the UK was 7 percent.[1]

Samantha de Bendern, a fellow of the British intelligence outfit Institute for Statecraft, worked in Geneva with Coutts Bank[2]


The bank which was to become Coutts & Co, was originally a goldsmith-banker's shop. It was formed in 1692 by a young Scots goldsmith-banker, John Campbell of Lundie, Scotland. Many of his clients were his countrymen, including his clan chief, the powerful Duke of Argyll. Even in the time of John Campell, the house offered comprehensive banking services, and an extremely close and successful cooperation with the aristocracy began. Campbell enjoyed royal patronage when Queen Anne commissioned him to make the collars and badges of the Order of the Thistle.

Business with the English aristocracy flourished above all under Thomas Coutts, who took over the fortunes of the bank in 1775 and managed it for over 50 years. George III (1738–1820), King of Great Britain and Ireland, his most famous client, even entrusted the bank with the royal private coffers. At that time, the clientele included such famous personalities as the Duke of Wellington and Lord Nelson's mistress, Emma Lady Hamilton. The name Coutts first appeared in the bank's name in 1755.

James Coutts, a Scottish banker, formed a partnership with Campbell through his marriage to Mary Peagrum, the founder's granddaughter. When Campbell died in 1760, James Coutts brought in his youngest brother, Thomas, and in 1761 the bank was named James & Thomas Coutts. When James Coutts retired from the bank in 1775 the bank changed its name to Thomas Coutts & Company, the name remaining until Thomas's death in 1822.

The long reign of George III was a time of great political, social and economic change. Coutt's clients were closely associated with events such as the American Revolutionary War, the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars and the opening up of India and the Far East to the British Empire. When Thomas Coutts died in 1822 his fortune and a 50% interest in the bank passed to his second wife, Harriot Coutts, and the name of the bank changed to Coutts & Co. As a senior partner, Harriot Coutts (later the Duchess of St. Albans) had an active interest in banking. She decided that her inheritance should pass to a single member of the family, and so in 1837 Angela Burdett, then the youngest of Thomas Coutt's grandchildren at the age of 24, inherited Harriott's share of the trust. Harriot's will also required Angela to take the Coutts name and prohibited her from marrying a foreigner or interfering with the management of the company.[3]

Decisive expansion steps followed in the 20th century. Coutts joined the banking group NatWest Group in a merger in 1969 and became its wealth management arm with offices in London and a further nine offices in England. In 2000, the NatWest Group was taken over by the Royal Bank of Scotland, one of the world's largest banking groups with close ties to the British Crown. In this way, the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) suddenly gained access to the American and continental European markets, in which it had not previously had a strong presence. Coutts Bank (Switzerland) Ltd., headquartered in Zurich, became responsible for operations on the European continent, with branches in North and South America, Singapore and Hong Kong, and offshore companies, so-called trust factories, in the British Isles of Jersey and Cayman Islands – they formed the core of Coutts International.

In 2003 Coutts acquired the Swiss Bank von Ernst & Cie AG, founded in 1869 by the Bernese aristocrat Vinzenz Niklaus von Ernst as a general partnership, via the Royal Bank of Scotland Group.

The parent company RBS was saved from collapse by the government during the financial crisis in 2007. Since then, more than 80 percent of RBS and its elegant subsidiary Coutts have belonged to the British state. In 2012, the British financial regulator FSA attacked the bank harshly: Coutts helped launder money in countries that were targets of British regime changes – for example the rulers of Libya, Syria or Zimbabwe. Coutts had to pay a fine of ten million euros.[4]

Confiscated files

On May 20, 2014, two containers were confiscated in the port of Hamburg with documents on so-called offshore accounts from the Cayman Islands, which were to be transported from Hamburg to Geneva. The Cayman Islands are considered a tax haven and a discreet money hiding place for the super-rich and criminals from all over the world. The German Ministry of Finance and the public prosecutor's office and the tax investigation in Düsseldorf were involved in the case. There was an investigation into German Coutts customers: In the summer of 2012, North Rhine-Westphalia bought a tax CD that contained the names and account details of around 1,200 German Coutts customers who allegedly evaded taxes, sometimes on a large scale. Coutts demanded the documents back, stating that the Swiss Coutts Bank AG was not the owner of Coutts Cayman, a separate legal entity.[5].


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