Magazine article The Spectator

In a Rich Man's World

Magazine article The Spectator

In a Rich Man's World

Article excerpt

As the dust slowly settles around the banking world's Ground Zero, it's instructive to peer into the hole and ponder the options that remain open to those who are reluctant to keep what's left of their filthy lucre in the Bank of Brown.

I must own up that my record with our great banking institutions is not an unblemished one. Trolling into Barclloyds one sparkling college morning I could have sworn I heard someone behind the counter hiss, 'That's him.' Dismissing it as another pesky, pot-induced paranoid hallucination, I pressed on to the counter. Pish-tosh to my fried-brain theory -- the teller snatched my chequebook and card and gleefully snipped the latter into what I still feel were unnecessarily small pieces.

That's all in the dim and distant now, so I asked an entrepreneur of my acquaintance to tell me what's the point of posh banks. ''Cept for Hoare, they're all just brands owned by the Royal Bank of Scotland. But -- and this but is bigger than J Lo's [he's American] -- the Hoare's got their own money in their bank so now that Madame freakin' Lafarge is banging on the freakin' door that's where I put my dough too. Oh yeah! 'Cos Jesus is coming real soon, ' he added, slapping his thigh enthusiastically. (I added that last bit for verisimilitude. ) He's right about the Royal Bank of course.

Child & Co and Drummonds, founded in the 17th and 18th centuries, were acquired between the wars. Coutts & Co, founded in 1692, held out until 2000 before Sir Fred Goodwin finally forced their independence into his shredder. In 1983 Adam & Co emerged as the first new retail bank to be founded in Scotland for nearly 140 years.

Presumably there were good reasons for that long gap as RBS snapped it up a decade later.

Now that Fred the Shredder is himself shredded, it seems like something almost from the pages of 'Alistair in Blunderland' that, as part of RBS, Coutts -- the Queen's bankers -- should be 60 per cent owned by the government and, by extension, me.

Twenty years older, Coutts's near-neighbours C. Hoare & Co are, indeed, the UK's last remaining 'private bankers'. So what do their clients actually get for their money (they tend to charge somewhat more for their services, say 20 to 30 per cent, than we proles pay) apart from being called a 'client' rather than just a crappy 'customer' and having the cachet of the curly name at the top of their jumbo-size cheques? (There is quite a lot of that, I think, and I'd be tempted to try to pay for things in guineas if I had such cheques. …

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