Private banking has long been a pillar of financial services for ultra-high-net-worth individuals. These exclusive institutions offer highly personalised fund management to the very wealthiest clients. London is a global hub for private banks, with some of the world’s biggest names competing for the UK’s UHNWs.
The phrase ‘private banking’ might conjure up images of vast marble lobbies, wood-panelled meeting rooms and armoured safes filled with priceless family heirlooms – and this picture of lavishness isn’t totally wrong.
Private banks attract the elite by offering a service that’s far removed from the high street customer’s banking experience. They are more akin to one of London’s best private members’ clubs – havens of wealth, discretion and impeccable service, which is at once exceedingly well informed and highly individual.
Britain is home to titans of this industry including Weatherbys, winner of the Spear’s Award 2023 for Best Private Bank (UK); Coutts & Co, the King’s bank; and C Hoare & Co, the oldest family-owned bank in the world. There are also private bank subsidiaries of international banking groups.
So who are the best private banks? And what makes private banking so appealing to ultra-high-net-worths? Many Spear’s readers will already be well versed in this field but for the uninitiated, here is the essential guide…
What is private banking and what are the benefits?
Private banks offer ultra-high-net-worth clients an exclusive level of service, wealth management facilities and investment opportunities that are not available to retail banking customers.
Customers are given access to sophisticated investment opportunities such as private equity, hedge funds and venture capital. Private banks may also offer preferential rates on loans and deposits, as well as real estate loans and philanthropic advice.
There is also a level of personalised service: private banking clients typically have direct access to an individual relationship manager, or sometimes two, creating a personalised experience that is often sorely lacking from mainstream banking options.
As well as understanding the unique needs, desires and fears of ultra-high-net-worth clients, private banks can create a holistic plan for an individual, business or family, centralised around themes like liquidity, lifestyle, legacy and growth.
Private banks can assist UHNWs in planning for future generations: how to plan for succession or protect wealth for children and grandchildren.
Private banks competing for UHNW clients
It is not uncommon for wealthy dynasties to be with the same private bank for generations. Yet these revered institutions face a dilemma: how does one attract the next generation of billionaires without diverging too much from the traditions that are so important to long-standing clients?
‘Much as they try and move with the times, their traditions are strong and some of their clients have been with them for generations,’ one private banking insider tells Spear’s.
‘They are all battling the same question: to what extent do we move on from the traditions and old ways of doing things, to reach out to entrepreneurs and professionals?’
The most exclusive private banks: the names to know
C. Hoare & Co
Older even than the Bank of England (founded in 1694, a laggard by comparison), the 351-year history of C Hoare & Co makes it the UK’s oldest privately-owned bank — and the oldest family-owned bank in the world. The twelfth generation of the family is now running the business, which has served Pepys, John Dryden, Jane Austen and Lord Byron over the years.
C. Hoare & Co offers a range of services to personal and business account holders, from mortgages to philanthropy advice. Its Master Charitable Trust provides a tax-efficient way to organise charitable giving.
A museum within its HQ contains artefacts including a letter written by Captain FitzRoy, nineteenth-century lottery tickets and an original ‘golden bottle,’ used as a marker in the days before street numbers by founder Richard Hoare.
Blood may be thicker than water, but ability is more important in this family business, partner and director Alexander Hoare told Spear’s last year. ‘You don’t want people who’ll just treat it as a nice sinecure,’ he says. ‘You want people who’ll own it. I am looking for people that are quite capable enough to have good careers anywhere, not people who have got the right gene pool.’
Coutts & Co
Founded in 1692, Coutts is perhaps the best known of the old guard. And for very good reason: it was used by the Queen until her death in September. It has long links with the Royal Family and served Queen Anne in the eighteenth century.
Coutts has a gilded history and reputation that belies its status today as a separate unit of Natwest Group. It offers private banking and wealth management services for high-net-worth individuals and their families. Entrepreneurs are a key target market on its website.
Coutts has a dedicated entrepreneur service, providing capital and connections to start-ups and described as ‘the first offering of its kind by a bank in the UK.’ The Coutts Investment Club also introduces UHNWs hunting investment opportunities to new private companies.
Customers with a sweet tooth may find it appealing that Coutts has a working garden on the roof of its Strand HQ featuring bees which make its ‘Three Crowns’ honey, so-named for its distinctive logo.
Founded 190 years ago as a merchant bank, Arbuthnot Latham has evolved to now provide private banking and commercial banking, as well as wealth management services.
Arbuthnot splits its private banking offering into three teams targeting entrepreneurs; executives and professionals; and sports, media and entertainment clients. Its commercial banking arm offers deposit accounts, loans and Treasury/FX services.
Stability is now a prized asset in banking after March’s ructions. In recent results, Arbuthnot reported a fourfold increase in pretax profits and said the bank’s ‘conservative’ business model had been proven to work in ‘circumstances such as those we have witnessed in the last few weeks.’
Arbuthnot has weathered much more than financial storms over the years — its City head office was destroyed by a bombing raid during the Blitz.
James Weatherby, a Northumbrian solicitor was appointed by the Jockey Club as secretary in 1770 and soon started publishing a racing calendar. More than two centuries on, the Weatherbys family business acquired a banking licence in 1994.
Day-to-day banking, from current accounts to loans, bespoke deposit accounts, through to more complex offerings in tax, trusts and estate planning.
Recent client events have included clay pigeon shooting in partnership with Holland & Holland, an evening at Boodles and a day at the Hundred Hills vineyard in Oxfordshire.
Its racing heritage makes it a must for wealthy lovers of the horses… though if you are actually in the business you can use Weatherbys Racing Bank, based in Wellingborough, for racehorse owners and bloodstock industry professionals.
Hampden & Co
Named after John Hampden, a 17th-century rebel against Charles I, this London and Edinburgh-based bank dates its foundation to… 2015. A fresh-faced newcomer to the private banking world, Hampden & Co was the first market entrant for more than 20 years.
From their offices in London and Edinburgh, a team of 100 specialists in banking, operations, finance and risk are dedicated to supporting a wide range of clients based across the UK. While still a relatively new bank, their team of 18 private bankers has an average of 31 years’ experience. Each Hampden & Co client has their own dedicated banker and small support team, so they always have access to a person who knows them and their individual circumstances.
As specialists in complex lending, Hampden & Co’s bankers create solutions for clients that reflect their circumstances. Where the codified, ‘tick-box’ credit models used by most banks often reject a loan application, Hampden & Co’s bankers and in-house credit professionals review every application on its own merits and can create solutions that allow the client to achieve their goals.
Hampden & Co’s personal service is complemented with digital banking, providing clients with the flexibility to manage their accounts in the way that suits them best. It also enables short lines of communication between teams enabling quick, considered decisions and responses to client requests.
It has won The Spear’s Award for best UK private bank twice: once in 2018 and again in 2022.
HSBC Global Private Banking
The private banking arm of HSBC, one of the world’s leading financial institutions for over 150 years, provides bespoke service to ultra-high-net-worth clients.
‘In HSBC Global Private Banking we believe our role is to help our clients meet their ambitions and make positive change in the world,’ the bank tells Spear’s. ‘We do this by connecting our clients to unique opportunities through our international network, breadth of solutions and unrivalled expertise.’
HSBC Private Banking offers investment capabilities across a broad range of asset classes covering equities, fixed income, FX, hedge funds, private equity, real estate, and commodities.
The benefit of banking with such an established global institution also means clients have access to one of the largest trust and fiduciary services in the world with capabilities including trust and wealth structuring, succession and philanthropic planning and family and business governance.
HSBC Global Private Banking was nominated for the Best Private Bank (UK) in the Spear’s Awards 2023.
EFG Private Bank
A nominee for The Spear’s Awards 2023, EFG Private Bank Ltd is the UK-based wealth management arm of global Swiss private banking group EFG International. The institution has been in the UK for 30 years, with offices in London and Birmingham among their 40 global locations.
EFG’s activities encompass banking and credit, wealth planning, investment management and fiduciary services both for private and institutional clients.
‘Our primary goal is to create profitable and sustainable growth for the benefit of our clients, shareholders, stakeholders and employees,’ EFG previously told Spear’s. ‘We strive to be a reliable and professional financial partner and an attractive employer to ensure the prosperity of future generations.’
An entrepreneurial spirit has shaped EFG and the firm prides itself on ‘thinking and acting like entrepreneurs’.
SG Kleinwort Hambros
SG Kleinwort Hambros, which provides financial services across the UK, Channel Islands and Gibraltar, was created in 2016 when French banking giant Société Générale acquired Kleinwort Benson and merged it with its subsidiary SG Hambros, which it had previously acquired in 1998.
The merger was historic but not without its shakeups, as it saw two leaders stepping down successively. Then CIO Mouhammed Choukeir was appointed as its third CEO in two years, at the start of the pandemic in 2020. ‘My first day as CEO was from behind a screen,’ Choukier jokingly told Spear’s on being inducted into the Power List 2023.
Choukeir’s premiership focuses on projecting the bank’s image as one with deep European history ‘with a modern, entrepreneurial mindset’. ‘We like to think of Hambros as a start-up with two hundred years of experience,’ Choukeir said, emphasising the bank’s focus on helping clients ‘build sustainable legacies for generations to come’.
From expert wealth planning advice and investment strategies to specialist lending products, SG Kleinwort Hambros prides itself in providing the personal approach clients would expect from a modern and responsible private bank.