[This is an article from 2017. Jan]
What does your chequebook say about you? If it is printed in fine copperplate on a creamy faux-parchment, it might suggest old money, or at the very least, quite a lot of it. A cheque drawn on a private bank has, for generations, conveyed a subtle but potent message about the person signing it. It still does. Cheques are anachronistic – quaint, even – nowadays, but they thrive in the rarefied air of Britain’s private banks.
Here, where business is still conducted in oak-panelled rooms over tea served with handmade biscuits, there is a sense of a new golden age. The financial crash left many thinking that bankers were untrustworthy, but a fresh breeze of confidence is blowing through private banking houses – by which we don’t mean high street banks. The British Bankers’ Association (now part of UK Finance – the trade body representing banks and financial institutions) says around £226bn of clients’ money is under management in the private-banking sector, a figure that has more than doubled since 2011. Some 2.2 million people put their cash into banks that range from Swiss behemoths to boutique operations with names barely known beyond the cognoscenti.
London is at the heart of the trend, says UK Finance excutive Eric Leenders, and draws in high-net-worth individuals from just about everywhere. He cites Britain’s time zone, the English language and financial and political stability as attractions, but Tatler found another reason for the dash to private-account cash. In the bloody aftermath of the banking crash, the affluent, rich and super-rich are looking back to an earlier age of banking, before algorithms held sway. They want to talk to a human being about their money, as it used to be. As one banking executive put it, the growth of private accounts is about going back to the future.
Witness Hampden & Co, a still small but fast-growing private bank that first opened its doors just two years ago and now has around £200m on deposit, with loans to clients nearing £50m. Hampden’s head office is in a Georgian townhouse in Edinburgh’s Charlotte Square; its London office is on Dover Street, off Piccadilly. Chief executive Graeme Hartop says the bank’s relationship with its clients underpins everything it does: ‘Our clients know who they can speak to when something needs sorting out. We tailor solutions to individuals. When it comes to lending, we have people who look at every case. There is no computer model that has to be followed.’
The Hampden group marketing director, James Oliver, reinforces the point. ‘Bespoking is in the ascendant,’ he says. ‘People want the best service, whether it is a Savile Row suit, great food or intelligent banking. The private banker will know, in a subtle way, everything about your wealth and circumstances. So if you want, say, a C-Type Jaguar, a chalet or a grouse moor, your banker should know the best and quickest way to acquire it. Conversely, they will also be able to advise you if you are way off the mark. It’s akin to having a private shopper at Harvey Nichols. They will know about you, what suits and – importantly – what doesn’t. They won’t put something unflattering or daft in front of you. If you want a two-masted schooner, or you want to put a wind farm on your estate, you can discuss it with people who are able to guide you to the right solution. You can’t get that at your local high street bank.’
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