Founded in 1692 by a Scottish goldsmith, John Campbell, under the sign of the Three Crowns in the Strand, the bank took the name Coutts from two brothers, Thomas and James, who joined the partnership in the mid-18th century — James having married Campbell’s granddaughter. It was Thomas who established the firm’s reputation as private bankers to the aristocracy, and secured its royal connection.
Though it became a subsidiary of the National Provincial Bank (later part of NatWest) in 1920, Coutts maintained the style and management practices of a 19th-century partnership into the era of computerisation and increasing competition that began in the 1960s. David Money-Coutts, who became a managing director in 1970 and succeeded Sir Seymour Egerton as chairman in 1976, faced the challenge of steering a course between tradition and modernity.
Ably assisted by his cousin and deputy chairman Lord Harrowby, Money-Coutts oversaw a transition of the business into one which kept a sharper watch on cost, profitability and internal efficiency — but also sought to maintain, through personal accessibility and attention to individual customers’ circumstances, the “soul” which one of them, the writer Osbert Sitwell, had praised in earlier times.
Tall and angular, Money-Coutts bore a distinct resemblance to his ancestor Thomas, whose statue dominated the foyer of the bank’s Strand headquarters. He also shared the characteristic of “exactness” for which Thomas was famed.
David Money-Coutts had a reserved manner and was a stickler for exactness: he described himself as “fairly pernickety ... people say I ought to have been a schoolmaster”. But brusqueness disguised a genuine kindness and concern towards both customers and staff. He was a perfectionist with a practical eye: on his daily round of the bank’s departments, he would sometimes pause to repair an out-of-action item of office machinery. He was also notably unstuffy. “We are not snobs,” he once observed, “though some of our customers are.”
Symbolic of Coutts’ willingness to embrace the future during his tenure was the refurbishment of the Strand building. After a long planning battle, the final design by Sir Frederick Gibberd incorporated the first glazed atrium and internal garden in a London office complex within John Nash’s triangular scheme from 1831, famous for its “pepper pot” corners. When the Queen came to perform the official opening in 1978, Money-Coutts reminded her that his great-great-great-great-grandfather Thomas had been a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber to hers, George III.
“With all those greats on both sides,” Her Majesty replied, “I do indeed agree that this is very much a family occasion.” She went on to acknowledge the wisdom of Coutts’ financial advice to royal customers over the generations, “even if they have not always been grateful for it”.
The boom years of the 1980s brought new pressures, both in risk control and in profit performance. Having previously allowed Coutts directors a high degree of autonomy, NatWest began to demand much more from them, and in 1990 a strategy was conceived in which “Coutts & Co” would become the global brand for the group’s services for high-net-worth customers.
Money-Coutts declared that this could be achieved “whilst retaining the character of a much smaller private bank”. But in the view of many observers, his retirement from the chair in 1993 marked the end of the era of benign and cautious but forward-looking dynastic management which had served Coutts and its customers so well.
David Burdett Money-Coutts was born on July 19 1931 . He spent his childhood in Ayrshire and was educated at Eton. After National Service with the 1st Royal Dragoons in Germany and Egypt (where he contracted polio, but made a full recovery), he read PPE at New College, Oxford. His paternal ancestor, the Rev James Money, had married Clara Burdett, a granddaughter of Thomas Coutts. The surname Money-Coutts was adopted by James and Clara’s descendants, and in 1912 the ancient barony of Latymer was revived in favour of David’s great-grandfather, Francis Money-Coutts.
David’s grandfather and uncle, respectively the 6th and 7th Lords Latymer, were directors of Coutts, but his father Alexander made a career in the Imperial Tobacco Company. David thought of following him until he was invited to join the bank after graduation in 1954. After four years’ probation, including a secondment to a City stockbrokers, he became a junior director.
Sharing an open office with his colleagues, he participated in a unchanging daily routine of collective decision-making: administration matters at 10am, loans at 11.30, trustee business at noon, onwards to lunch and letters to be signed thereafter. All male staff, including directors, wore frock-coats — which Money-Coutts regarded as “good for morale, because everyone looks smart”.
Recognising his personal role as banker to the Royal family, he was appointed KCVO in 1971. Well-respected throughout the financial establishment, he was also chairman of the investment group M&G, deputy chairman of the discount house Gerrard & National and of Phoenix Assurance, and a director of Dun & Bradstreet, the credit reference agency. At NatWest he was a director from 1976 to 1990, and chairman of the bank’s southern regional advisory board.
Beyond the City he was much involved in the field of health care as a governor of Middlesex Hospital, a member of the Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster Area Health Authority, chairman of the Medical Schools Council and a trustee of the Multiple Sclerosis Society. He was chairman of the Scout Foundation and the Old Etonian Trust .
He married, in 1958, Penelope Todd, who in an unguarded interview at the time of his knighthood revealed that he could cook, iron and sew — indeed, do anything domestic “except give birth” — and that although he was the “kindest, nicest man”, he had once tipped a bowl of bread and butter pudding over her head in anger. She survives him with their son and two daughters.
Sir David Money-Coutts, born July 19 1931, died June 25 2012