We have a rich and colourful history spanning more than 300 years. Explore our heritage.
The John Campbell beginnings
In the Spring of 1692, a young Scot, John Campbell of Lundie, set up business as a goldsmith-banker at the sign of the Three Crowns in the Strand, London. The earliest extant records show that not only did Campbell supply plate and jewellery, he offered a comprehensive banking service: discounting bills, making loans and taking deposits. Many of his customers were his fellow countrymen, including his clan chief, the powerful Duke of Argyll. Campbell enjoyed royal patronage when Queen Anne commissioned him to make the collars and badges for the Order of the Thistle. In 1708, Campbell took another Scottish goldsmith, George Middleton, as partner. John Campbell died in 1712 and that year, Middleton married the founder’s daughter, Mary.
Middleton was heavily involved with the business of the French financier, John Law. This, combined with the bursting of the South Sea and Mississippi Bubbles in 1720, led to Middleton stopping payment for three years. In 1727 George Campbell, the founder’s younger son, joined Middleton and in 1744 a third partner, David Bruce, entered the Bank. The goldsmithing side of the business had declined since the 1720s and when Middleton died in 1747, the surviving partners called themselves simply “Bankers of 59 Strand”, the Bank’s home from 1739.
The name Coutts first appeared in the title of the Bank in 1755. James Coutts, a Scottish banker, was taken into partnership by Campbell on his marriage to Mary Peagrum, granddaughter of the founder. When Campbell died in 1760, James invited his youngest brother, Thomas, to join him and in January 1761 the Bank became known as James & Thomas Coutts. When James retired in 1775, the Bank’s title changed to Thomas Coutts & Company, which it was to remain until Thomas’ death in 1822.
The Bank flourished under Thomas and his partners Edmund Antrobus, Edward Marjoribanks and Coutts Trotter. The premises at 59 Strand were significantly enlarged in the last decade of the 18th century and profits rose from £9,700 in 1775 to £72,000 in 1821. The long reign of George III was a period of major political, social and economic change. Coutts’ customers were closely involved with such events as the American War of Independence, the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars and the opening of India and the Far East. Thomas’ customers, many of whom were also friends, ranged from the monarch to the Covent Garden cowkeeper.
When Thomas died in 1822, his estate and 50% share in the Bank passed to his second wife, Harriot and the name of the Bank became Coutts & Co. As senior partner, Harriot (later Duchess of St Albans) took an active interest in the business. She decided that the 50% share and Thomas’ fortune should revert to a family member at her death. Consequently, in 1837, Angela Burdett, at 24 the youngest of Thomas’ grandchildren, inherited the interest in a Trust which included a half-share in the Bank. Harriot’s Will stipulated that Angela take the Coutts name but forbade her from marrying a foreigner or interfering in the running of the business.
During the Victorian era, the Bank had to face new challenges in a fast-changing world. Developing industries were hungry for investment and the new and successful joint stock banks meant fierce competition for the old-established private banking houses. There can be little doubt that the name, reputation and personal fortune of Thomas Coutts inspired confidence in the Bank during his lifetime. It was Angela Burdett-Coutts as the heir to the name and fortune, who was seen as the public face of the Bank in the Victorian period. In addition the service of younger generations of Marjoribanks and Antrobuses, combined with new names in the partnership – Coulthurst, Ryder and Malcolm - continued the high level of confidence Coutts enjoyed.
The Baring crisis of 1890 forced a number of banks to re-assess their position. Coutts & Co, after much careful consideration, decided to change its status and in June 1892 the Bank dissolved the partnership and became an unlimited liability company. More changes were on the way when in 1904 after 165 years at 59 Strand, the Bank moved to its current site at 440 Strand. In 1906, Angela Burdett-Coutts died and in 1914 Coutts took over the business of the City bankers, Robarts, Lubbock & Co, thereby creating the Bank’s first branch (15 Lombard Street) and gaining Coutts a seat in the Clearing House. By 1919 it was apparent that Coutts could not take full advantage of the post-war market or compete with larger banks. So the decision was made to amalgamate with the National Provincial & Union Bank of England Ltd. Coutts maintained its name, management and style of service. Later, the merger of the Westminster Bank and the National Provincial in January 1969 meant that Coutts came to form part of the larger NatWest group.
Throughout the 20th century, Coutts opened more branches. The first West End branch outside 440 Strand was opened in 1921 in Park Lane. It was not until 1961 that the Bank moved outside the capital, opening its first out-of-town branch at Eton. Coutts embraced modern technology, becoming one of the first banks to bring in machine-posted ledgers at the end of the 1920s . In 1963 it was the first British bank to have a fully computerised accounting system. In 1987, Coutts gained international representation when Coutts established operations in Geneva. In October 1990, Coutts and NatWest decided to strengthen their representation internationally and the Coutts Group was created when subsidiaries already owned by Coutts and NatWest (including Handelsbank) were merged.
The acquisition of the NatWest Group in 2000 established Coutts as the private banking arm of The Royal Bank of Scotland.
On 1 January 2008, Coutts international businesses were branded RBS Coutts: a new brand for a private bank that brings together a unique combination of attributes.
It is the size and strength of RBS Group, together with Coutts experience and sound investment philosophy, that makes RBS Coutts one of the leaders in international private banking. These solid foundations provide our clients with sophisticated and individual wealth management, personally.
Coutts acquired Bank von Ernst in 2003 and together with RBS Coutts had offices around the world.