Great Britain

‘The Queen’s bank’ Coutts joins the ranks of ethical brands

Private bank Coutts will offer carbon credits and green mortgages to its ultra-wealthy clients after becoming one of the largest UK banking brands to secure B Corp status.

Coutts, known as the Queen’s bank for having served every member of the royal family since George IV, is trying to bolster its environmental and social reputation after being dogged by a series of scandals in recent years, including sexual harassment allegations against its former star banker Harry Keogh, who was sacked in 2018. The bank was also fined by Swiss regulators in 2017 over alleged money laundering and for illegally profiting from transactions associated with the 1MDB scandal.

The lender has now secured B Corp certification, which is meant to signal that a company upholds high standards in its dealings with staff, the community, customers and the environment.

It joins more than 500 other B Corps in the UK – including energy company Bulb, The Body Shop, and Jamie Oliver Group – which are required to value purpose as much as profit and commit to improving their performance every year. The Guardian’s publisher, Guardian Media Group, is also a B Corp.

The Coutts chief executive, Peter Flavel, said the move was not necessarily about attracting new clients, but ensuring that the 329-year-old bank remained relevant to existing customers and their children, who are increasingly concerned about the impact of their family’s wealth.

“We seek to bank families over generations,” he said. “I do think that a younger generation of client coming in is going to want to see that we’re addressing these issues.”

Internally, it means the bank will continue reducing the carbon footprint of its investment funds, and assess the impact of its service providers and suppliers, including tech support, software, caterers and concierge services.

And for clients, it will mean Coutts will help customers assess and understand their own carbon emissions, and encourage business customers to sign up to Paris climate commitments. Clients will also be offered the opportunity to purchase carbon credits to offset their footprint – the details of which are still under discussion – and encouraged to take up green mortgages by offering lower interest rates.

“Wealthy people continue to live in larger, older houses, and the carbon footprint … generally isn’t that good,” Flavel said. “So we’re working out …[how we] can help our clients understand what the footprint of their house is and what they can do to improve the carbon footprint of the way they live.”

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Coutts, which offers services ranging from holiday planning to investments and wills, is one of the few UK financial firms to hold the certification alongside asset manager Lombard Odier and digital bank Triodos. A number of Coutss’s own clients also hold B Corp status including the PR firm Freuds, and law firm Bates Wells.

But some existing B Corp companies have run into trouble. Last month, it emerged that B Lab, the New York-based group that oversees the certification, was reviewing Brewdog’s accreditation following allegations that the Scottish brewer’s bosses had created a toxic work culture. B Lab said it did not comment on the details of open cases.

Flavel said it took Coutts 18 months to secure its certification. “It’s incredibly challenging to get there,” he said.

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