No longer. These days it's just as likely to be Posh Spice, a National
Lottery winner, a Premier League footballer or a divorcee who has just
taken her ex-husband to the cleaners as it is the landed gentry or the
The so-called "new affluent" market has been perpetually swelled by
young entrepreneurs who have built and sold businesses while still in
their 30s or 40s, liquifying millions of pounds. Or by a growing middle
class with lots of inherited loot to invest.
And, unlike old money, the new market has little time for bankers'
flummery or frock-coated flunkies greeting it at the door.
For Coutts, last week's appointment of M&C Saatchi as its first agency
in more than three centuries is an acknowledgement of a changed trading
The bank, which once looked after the financial affairs of Charles
Dickens, Frederic Chopin, Wilkie Collins and Lord Byron, still has a
client list to die for - but it isn't the only game in town any
Internet share dealing and the creation of a single regulator - the
Financial Services Authority - have simplified the workings of the
industry considerably, making it easier for rivals to encroach on
This has led to some formidable alliances, notably the one between HSBC
and Merrill Lynch, which allows the US investment specialist to feed off
the high-street bank's huge customer database.
Coutts' problems are compounded by the fact that it has changed its
strategy, management and ownership too many times for a sector like
private banking, where continuity is key. Andrew Fisher, its chief
executive and former Unilever marketer, is its fifth boss in eight years
and the bank is now a Royal Bank of Scotland subsidiary.
Moreover, the bank's image hasn't been helped by questionable lending
decisions which hit profits, a money laundering scandal in the US, and
reports of dissatisfied customers such as the rock star Phil Collins and
the heavy metal band Iron Maiden taking their business elsewhere.
Indeed, some industry sources believe that the decision to appoint an
agency has less to do with buffing up Coutts' image and more with the
RBS's need to show the City that it is getting to grips with its problem
For the moment, advertising plans remain under wraps, although M&C
Saatchi insists the aim will be to restate Coutts' strengths rather than
go for a makeover.
"We're not attempting an update because Coutts is a strong brand with
strong associations," Moray MacLennan, the agency's joint chief
executive, says. "It's just that some of the associations aren't
necessarily the right ones."
Given that Coutts' market is so sharply defined, there's a widespread
belief that the bank should be giving priority to getting its internal
organisation right - each customer has a personal banker to advise on a
range of investment products - before turning its attention to
"These relationships are crucial because they last a lifetime," a
financial expert comments.
Others question whether Coutts should even be considering becoming a
serious advertiser at a time when the dotcom collapse has seriously
reduced the number of newly created millionaires.
But Andrew Porter, the chief executive of Masius, the D'Arcy group
financial specialist, believes Coutts has reason to advertise because
its market is no longer small or exclusive. "It can't just market itself
to Who's Who any more."
He adds: "Coutts will be looking to secure its position in a market
which associates it with old school and old money." With this challenge
ahead, Gilbert's lyrics may prove hard to live down.