What would Mr Coutts have done?
We celebrate the birthday of Thomas Coutts, who led the bank for nearly 50 years from 1775, and examine how his legacy lives on in how we support clients today.
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21 Sep 20213 min
Born on this day in 1735, he became an extremely successful businessman by anyone’s standards. Under his leadership, profits at Coutts went up by over 640%.
The bank grew so fast during his time as senior partner that huge expansion work was needed at its headquarters at 59 Strand, London – now a Pizza Hut across the road from today’s Coutts building.
Much of his legacy still lives on in how we support our clients today.
Greg Kyle-Langley, Head of Entrepreneurs Proposition at Coutts, explains, “One of the key things our entrepreneur clients often talk about is the importance of finding the right people to help them take their business to the next level. Thomas Coutts understood this in the 18th century and his network was important to the bank’s success. He took on good people to work with and was well connected in society.
“Today, building those key parts of your network is one of the most important things we can help entrepreneurs with. Of course we provide banking, lending and investment services. But for founders scaling their businesses, we provide something very special beyond that as well – invaluable connections."
He adds, “Whether it’s helping them find investors who ‘get’ what they’re doing or introducing them to like-minded peers who can help them, we bring people together for the benefit of all involved.”
Coutts archivist Tracey Earl says Thomas also embodied the bank’s ethos of going beyond banking to become a trusted adviser to clients.
“He would often be approached by customers with various requests and would do what he could to help them – even if it meant using his own money,” she says.
“He would tell them he’d do as a friend what he couldn’t do as a banker. Obviously not something our bankers can do today! But it showed how important it was for him to go the extra mile for clients.”
She adds, “He was described as having a warm and affectionate heart. He was a tough businessman but had that human side to him. He knew it was important to understand people, and he did.
“For years after his death in 1822, aged 86, the phrase ‘what would Mr Coutts have done?’ was commonly heard at the bank.”
History in the banking
Thomas joined Coutts in 1760 at the request of his older brother, James. When James retired 15 years later, Thomas took the reins and the bank became ‘Thomas Coutts & Company’.
He counted numerous writers, artists and actors among his friends, and married well-known actress Harriot Mellon after his first wife Susannah – mother of his three daughters – passed away. Harriot, a canny woman with a keen interest in business, became the bank’s senior partner when Thomas died, and the firm then took on the moniker it has kept to this day – Coutts & Co.
Perhaps strangely, despite his numerous achievements, Thomas never gained a title. But Tracey says he wouldn’t have minded.
“He was very careful with money and not really extravagant at all,” she says. “His view would have been that titles were expensive because you’d need to spend money to live the life expected of you. Thomas was happy with the respect of his clients and the high regard of his monarch, George IV, who he banked.”
Tracey adds, “What you saw was what you got with Thomas. He was straight talking and had a very direct way of doing business. No doubt that was a key element of his success. He’s probably best summed up by the Coutts family motto: To be, rather than to seem.”