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On the money

The bank with an ATM under Buckingham Palace

The Coutts branch on the Strand

For a “certain slice of the British chattering classes”, says Joseph Bullmore in Air Mail, there’s nothing worse than the idea of their money “mingling with that of the common man” in a “garden-variety” bank. So they go to the place where “the Queen saw fit to keep her cash”: the private bank Coutts. Entry requires crossing some sort of “financial drawbridge” – a threshold of assets and deposits – and the type of interview you’d expect from the “red-trousered president of an extremely expensive golf club”. Yet the institution never seems far from scandal: aside from the Nigel Farage “debanking” row, Coutts was fined $14m a decade ago for accepting a $3.3m payment in banknotes from a Qatari politician, handed over in “Fortnum & Mason carrier bags, as if Tony Soprano were from Surrey”.

Every member of the royal family since George IV has been a customer, as were the Beatles, Charles Dickens, Frédéric Chopin and Lord Nelson. It has a branch next to Eton College, “such is the concentration of Coutts account holders among the boys there”. There’s even a Coutts ATM in the basement of Buckingham Palace: Queen Elizabeth once alluded to the Queen Mother’s regular use of it, suggesting the bank would have “folded long ago, but for Mummy’s overdraft”. Non-royals must settle for the branch on the Strand, with its own Michelin-starred chef, and bees on the roof making honey for sweet-toothed clients. “People choose things that represent their own values and their sense of themselves,” explains one wealth management expert. “I think that’s the same with private banks.”