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Another Former Coutts Customer
By Anonymous Former Coutts Customer
Aug 23, 2009 - 7:47:26 AM

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I opened accounts with Coutts a few years ago on the recommendation of a friend, and persuaded my brother to do the same. I do a lot of stock market trading, so I frequently need to hold large amounts of money and move it around. Coutts seemed ideal, as they had an account which at the time paid as much interest as the best building society rates.

Though at first Coutts’ policy of personal service seemed promising, it turned out less so. My manager at Coutts was helpful and decent, but there seemed to be huge scope for human error from other people there - particularly his somewhat dim assistant. After a few months my brother and I established that a very large proportion of transactions were being done incorrectly.

I’d ask to move money from account A to account B and it would go from B to A instead. Or I’d request a same-day (CHAPS) wire transfer of several hundred thousand pounds, and it would be done the following day instead, or even not at all. The unreliability of these same-day transfers led me to try using a debit card instead, which ought to be easier and cheaper: many stockbroking companies will accept large debit card payments, with no wire fees and no need to make arrangements with the bank. Or that’s the theory, anyway. As it turned out, I went through several episodes in which my Coutts debit card was declined, and the stockbroker told me I had to phone the bank. I’d phone Coutts, and they would say there was no problem at their end, and I should phone the stockbroker and try again. Of course, trying again produced the same result.

After several such episodes, I inferred by trial and error that Coutts must have a £50,000 daily limit on how much I could take out via debit card; however, Coutts repeatedly denied there was any limit (and the stockbroker had no limit either). It seemed that I understood what was going on better than Coutts did: having spoken to several people there about the problem I got the impression that none of them really knew how their debit cards worked – perhaps they had outsourced them to another bank, I’m not sure. All they seemed to be able to do was apologise profusely, and ask me to phone the stockbrokers and try again. Eventually I asked my Coutts manager to investigate the matter, but he never got back to me with an explanation or solution. So I simply gave up, and instead used my First Direct debit card, which never produced any problems at all! (First Direct is an excellent bank, by the way.)

Meanwhile my brother was having similar problems, and others too. Once he phoned Coutts to check his account balance, and after being taken through security was told a figure which seemed much too low. (He lost money as a result, because he didn’t have enough cash to do a share trade he was planning.) When his next bank statement arrived, he realised he’d been told the wrong balance, and after further investigation it turned out he’d been told the balance of my account rather than his! An easy mistake for Coutts to make - after all, we do have the same surname (even if our first names and initials are completely different).

My brother then discovered another curious security lapse. You could bypass security by calling the bank and asked to be put through to a particular person – e.g. your manager’s assistant. That person would then incorrectly assume that you had been taken through security already, so would trust your identity and act on any verbal instructions you gave. (Perhaps you could phone up pretending to be the Queen, and take large amounts out of her account this way.) 

One December my brother called his manager’s assistant at Coutts to transfer a large amount of money out of his current account. A few days later he was alarmed to find that they had transferred £20,000 too little, leaving it sitting in his current account. When he called Coutts to query this, the manager’s assistant explained that he had decided to deduct £20,000 from the transfer (without asking or informing my brother) because he’d reckoned my brother would probably want some cash to spend over Christmas. That’s the kind of helpful forethought you get with personal service!

After a while Coutts started trying to sell me so-called structured products: these were typically an investment which is held for several years and guaranteed not to lose money, but will only make money if (say) the stock market rises by a certain amount. As I told Coutts, I wasn’t interested in anything linked to the stock market (which would increase my risk as I already did stock market investment), so I was pretty much only interested in savings accounts which pay good interest and let me take money out at short notice. Some months ago my Coutts manager was promoted and I was assigned a new one, who arranged a meeting to discuss my requirements.  Again I explained in detail the kind of products I was and was not interested in. After the interest on Coutts’ savings account dropped, I sent my manager an email asking if he had anything else to recommend, other than structured products. Lo and behold, he emailed back recommending a structured product, linked to the stock market, that had to be held for 5 years. That is, in all respects it was completely the opposite of what I wanted, and was entirely unsuited to my needs. (The word ‘mis-selling’ comes to mind.)

At that point I closed my Coutts accounts. When I told my brother, I found that by coincidence he had also just closed his!

© Copyright 1998-2008 by Craig W Walsh

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