I’m secretly a Coutts customer but for people like me there’s little point

I’m secretly a Coutts customer but for people like me there’s little point

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As someone with a Coutts account, maybe the least relatable aspect of the Nigel Farage story is: why would you publicise your Coutts account? I spent years developing the muscle memory to hold my thumb precisely over the brand name any time I take my card out; the telltale online banking icon is tucked safely away in the elephant’s graveyard of the fourth page of apps on my phone; I’ve never volunteered the information to a soul. But all it takes is one suspicious friend to wonder why you’re always putting your card the wrong way up when you split the bill and everyone you’ve ever met is mocking you for it within a week. That tiny stringed instrument you’re plucking at is making a horrible noise, incidentally.

Officially, Coutts requires that you have at least £1m in investments or borrowing, or £3m in savings, to bank with it. (You will remember that this was the version of the Farage story leaked to the BBC before he obtained the internal memo that revealed the reality.) This is, emphatically, not my situation, which does rather corroborate Farage’s suggestion that the bank picks and chooses when it applies those rules.

I got an account as a teenager because of my parents’ wealth. I’ve benefited in countless tangible and intangible ways from my family’s good fortune, none of them fair, but if the bank was betting on a long-term return by indulging my four-figure current account, it’s still waiting for a return.

So far, the most financially beneficial feature of our relationship from my end was when somebody took pity on me and waived the eyewatering £900 annual fee it charges customers whose balances aren’t worth their while. (In theory, it’s only free if you can afford it, which is probably a useful parable for capitalism in general.) I assume the only reason I haven’t been dumped is because they haven’t noticed, but I don’t think my ego can handle the “no results” response to a subject access request it would require to find out.

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What advantages do I accrue from a Coutts account, other than the dubious status conferred by a plastic oblong with cursive writing on it? Well, someone answers politely after a few rings whenever you call and smoothly cancels your Ukip direct debit, or whatever. They usually send out the new debit card in an expensive-looking little cardboard box with a paragraph about the illustration they commissioned to cover it. Also, you get a “private banker” who will reply by email to questions that a NatWest customer might put to a chatbot, and tops and tails the same answers you’d get from the AI with inquiries after your health and best wishes.

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On the other hand, I seemed to get basic technological upgrades like functioning online services and the ability to pay with my phone several years after anyone with a high street bank account. I assume this suspicious relationship with modernity is part of what attracted Farage in the first place, but for anyone else it’s a pain in the arse.

The first time most of the more rarefied features of Coutts’ offer – from exclusive investment opportunities to special networking events – crossed my radar was when I read about them in the Guardian. I had heard about the Coutts Concierge service, which promises tickets to sold-out events and help with getting a literal elephant to attend your wedding, because of the many, many emails they send me about it. But unlike the Nando’s black card, say, nobody is actually giving you anything. It’s not like you don’t have to pay for the Wimbledon hospitality box they can get you; if you have that much money, you could presumably get one anyway.

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Anyhow, there are myriad other services offering the same sort of thing whoever you bank with (including the company to which Coutts contracts the service out). What it boils down to, as far as I can tell, is an effectively branded way to part you from your cash and feel like you’re getting special treatment, like hot towels in business class. I get quite similar messages from Vodafone about their #feelgoodfridays.

Writing all this down, I find myself at a bit of a loss as to what the actual point is for people like me and Farage, who haven’t got the resources to take advantage of the actually useful stuff. When I was looking for a mortgage, Coutts’ promise of a deal that would account for the “sometimes irregular nature of cashflow”, which I presume is great if you’re a hedge fund guy, turned out to mean far higher repayments than I could get with Santander with my boring old monthly salary.

In truth, most of the benefits nominally attributed to having a Coutts account are actually just benefits of being rich. These days I use my Monzo account for almost everything and flash the bright orange card about with a giddy sense of freedom. The best that can be said for the other one is that at least you’re definitely not going to bump into Nigel Farage at the branch.

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