‘How you interact with customers is so critical because at the end of the day it’s about people’: Alisdair Dewar, who runs Coutts in Scotland, on his career, key lessons and ambitions for the bank private
It’s really important to me that if you want to be taken seriously in Scotland you need to have people in place locally and also physical offices, which is why we have invested in three key areas in Scotland.
We serve customers from Orkney to the Borders. Although we don’t have an office in every location, we try to visit as many as possible, as often as possible, and we cover all three major cities – there aren’t many private banks that can say that ‘they are seated in three Scottish localities.
It is a statement of intent of Coutts’ commitment to Scotland and what we want to achieve in Scotland in terms of success. I think we’re a very prosperous nation – we’re seeing an increase in customers from the gaming, tech and medical sectors, for example.
The big interview: Coutts managing director Peter Flavel
Coutts will celebrate its 330th birthday this year, and it was started by three Scottish families – the Campbells, the Middletons and the Coutts themselves. The history of the bank was shaped by these key families, who came from different parts of Scotland.
Today it’s about how to incorporate that into a modern offering and demonstrate that what it was founded on centuries ago is true today – we almost feel like our team is a family and we work with many family businesses.
I started my career at RBS, working in its Callander branch. You learn so much from a rural branch, from all the different walks of life that would come in – including family businesses, entrepreneurs, tourists and locals.
I look back on that time with great emotion – it also showed me that it’s not just about an individual, but about working collectively for the greater good. I then joined Edinburgh-based private bank Adam & Company – 23 years ago this year, in fact – and clients of its banking and lending business will transfer to Coutts in July, subject to approval.
At Adam & Company, I was exposed to all aspects of the business. It was an excellent foundation for a career in private banking and ultimately in customer service.
However, even though I have spent my entire career in financial services, that was not my original plan. When I left school I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and decided to go to college, but only because that’s what everyone else was doing. in my class. I started a degree in math and computer science, for no rhyme or reason other than I was relatively good with numbers – but ultimately being a student just wasn’t for me.
I had a summer job with RBS, and before resuming my second year of college, they offered me a full-time position. I remember phoning my parents, and they were totally supportive, although I’m sure they also told me I was going to have to start paying the rent!
Staying at the bank seemed like the right thing to do – and I continued my studies there. One of the first things that happened when I arrived at Adam & Company was that my boss handed me an application form to take my bank exams.
She was a real mentor, a real coach, and very inspirational to me, and she was very clear that if I was going to work with her, I had to be qualified. It’s something I’ve considered, and I think if you’re sitting in front of clients, you should have industry-approved credentials to back up what you’re saying.
When it comes to the skills that private banking requires, you need qualifications, but the way you interact with clients, the way you interact with people in general, is really key, because at the end of the day, it’s It’s a people business.
I remember being given excellent advice early in my career that it is essential to “be interested – and be interesting”. You must be able to listen to the client and understand their needs and those of their family.
But I think you also need to be able to add to the conversation, whether it’s just in general or whether it’s the complexity of the financial requirements.
Our clients all have different journeys and different ways of getting to where they are today. We help them achieve their goals and aspirations, whether it is, for example, buying their dream home or taking care of the money they have generated by selling their business.
You learn a lot about customers by guiding them through their financial journey. They ask me about their finances, of course, but they also ask for advice on decisions that can affect their finances, the real big picture that is built over years of service. You become a confidant to them, and so do many of my clients.
Looking ahead, educating the next generation is a huge priority for me, whether it’s value for money or what you can do philanthropically, which is essential for many customers in the future and something that will be well integrated into the fibers of Coutts in Scotland.
Another key goal for me is to go out and see clients. I can write to people as many times as I want, but nothing is better than face to face, so I intend to continue to do so in all three Scottish offices.
It’s about being at the forefront with the Coutts offer in Scotland, which has got off to a good start, and we’re going to build on that. Coutts’ success in Scotland will be based on the success of our customers; the better Scotland succeeds, the better society we can build.