When Duncan Gourlay was offered a place at university to study commerce back in the 1980s, he decided to turn it down. He had started a job at the Bank of Scotland that summer and failed to see the point in leaving it for higher education.
‘The late ‘80s were quite a different place than what it is now. In those days it was easy to get a job as a school-leaver and I was very fortunate in terms of timing because it all changed in the following decade.’
Some years later, while still working for the bank and with the encouragement of his bosses, Gourlay ended up doing a degree in financial services at Edinburgh’s Napier University. But private banking had already
won his heart.
‘I found it such an exciting area to work in because of how varied clients can be. The concept of offering a personalised service and the diversification it involved were extremely interesting.’
This might explain why, four years ago, after having worked for institutions such as Adam & Company and Barclays, he accepted the challenge of setting up the Edinburgh office of a small, family-owned private bank.
This venture was not an easy one. When Gourlay took the wheel he was alone in a serviced office, spending much of his time out and about around town, in meetings with new and prospective clients. Weatherbys did have some historic ties to a small Scottish clientele. But despite the support from existing clients, bringing in the first new people was a process that required much patience.
It can take a lot for people to change private banks, Gourlay admits, and one of the things that holds them back is the administrative mess that accompanies such a move. ‘They will consider moving primarily for two reasons: experiencing poor service from a banking provider or having a very specific requirement they can only cover elsewhere,’ he says.
Having close links with lawyers and accountants was one way of gaining access to this audience.
Gourlay used the social networks of existing clients and events to make the bank’s presence felt. Since moving to its current Rutland Square offices 18 months ago, the bank said its local client base has doubled, although it declined to reveal numbers.
Gourlay’s now five-strong team, including a private banker, a senior adviser and two banking assistants, still focuses on reaching a wider demographic. But the main focus remains to build closer ties with clients already on board.
‘We are a small business in comparison to some other firms out there, so we do not have the scale and branch network they might enjoy, but this allows us to offer a very personalised service.’
Now with almost 200 staff across its four offices in Wellingborough, London, Edinburgh and Ireland, the 247-year-old bank oversees £650 million in deposits.‘People like having this close relationship and talking to someone they know and who understands their arrangements, and we have no intention of changing that. This is the reason why people refer friends and family to us.’
Gourlay says the competition is not offering him any easy breaks, however. Scotland is a relatively small market and Weatherbys is up against some significant institutions, both home grown and London-based.
The Royal Bank of Scotland’s wealth subsidiaries may no longer be the dominant force they were a decade or so ago, but they retain a strong presence in the local market and alongside Hampden & Co – the private bank launched by Adam & Co alumni two years ago – are among the names which pop up most often when pitching to clients, he says.
The bank’s primary asset is its freedom from the kind of outcome-driven targeted sales culture which has tarnished the reputations of some of the private banking sector’s big beasts, he adds.
Taking pride in the fact that his team spends the time to travel, visit people and understand their specific situation, he insists that Weatherbys has no plans to diversify into aggressive product origination.
There is no target audience. Clients range from entrepreneurs and rural property-owners to wealthy people working in financial services. And although Edinburgh-based, the bank has activity around the country.‘One day you are speaking to a business owner in the centre of Edinburgh and the next to someone who runs an estate somewhere in Scotland that had maybe been mucking the pigs that morning.
‘When you think of estates and rural properties you may be thinking of something different. But there is a real next generation coming through that sector, embracing different opportunities. We have clients in their thirties who have taken on estates and are setting up things like farm shops or restaurants as well as the obvious things like alternative energy and hydro schemes or tourism.’
Although still at its early stages, Gourlay says that as the business grows there will be opportunities to hire new staff and promote the services to a larger audience. The business is actively courting clients across Scotland, with Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee and Inverness high up the priority list.
While the emphasis remains on private banking, the company is also keen to develop the less-developed wealth management side of the business. Growth remains a long and organic game. The vast majority of current investors have come through having a banking relationship with Weatherbys; therefore, the focus remains on building loyalty so that investment comes as a natural progression.
Gourlay says the team is happy to provide a client’s day-to-day banking, regardless of the type of request or size of the account.
‘There is no minimum [capital] requirement; we do not say that if you want to borrow from us you have to invest with us.
‘We know that clients’ circumstances change and at some point they will need to borrow money or want to invest. And if we manage that relationship in the way that we do now, then hopefully there is an opportunity for us to provide those additional services going forward.
‘There are clients who came to us to borrow money for a variety of reasons and because they were well looked after, they have stayed on for investment when their circumstances changed and they stopped borrowing.
‘We always have one eye on how to can make clients’ lives easier by adding on things to our service, whether it is technology, a particular innovation, or helping immediate members of the family by offering the bank’s services.’
In the nearly three decades of his career, it is more the delivery than the fundamentals of private banking that have changed; people still have the same needs, Gourlay says.
‘At the end of the day, clients require banking and this is something we have probably forgotten about. Our core focus is that and it will always be needed. Of course, you have various advances that change delivery but a current account of money going in and out will always be needed.’
He has no intention of jumping ship or sector, he says. People think of private banking as something dull, but it is not. At least for Gourlay, it is actually quite thrilling.