Three hundred years after it was founded, Britain's most exclusive private bank has arrived to do business on these shores.

Coutts & Co., the banker to Britain's royal family for more than 200 years, has opened a branch in New York.

"The U.S. marketplace is a turntable for funds coming and going out," said Lawrence D. Howell, executive vice president and head of operations in North America and Asia.

"What we plan to do is combine the capital strength of our parent company with our international network and expertise."

Part of Natwest Overhaul

Coutt's arrival in the United States follows a reorganization by its parent company. National Westminster Bank PLC, aimed at integrating and streamlining Natwest's private banking and trust operations.

Over the past two years, Coutts has shed several hundred workers and merged with Natwest International Trust Holdings in the Bahamas and HandelsBank Natwest in Zurich, where it has moved its headquarters.

"Natwest saw it had a whole range of businesses on an aggregate basis that made Coutts one of the larger players in global private banking," Mr. Howell said.

"What Natwest did was to pull together all the disparate private banking activities, domestic and offshore, and put them under a single international private bank."

A Presence in Miami

In addition to the recently approved New York branch, Coutts also operates a Miami Edge Act bank Natwest set up strictly to handle nonresident business.

Mr. Howell says more U.S. offices may be opened.

"We will be looking at opening something on the West Coast in 1994, probably in Los Angeles," he said. "The possibility of opening in additional locations is also very real, provided we can demonstrate success in our current efforts."

Founded in 1692 and acquired by Natwest in 1920, Coutts has traditionally kept a low profile.

The bank nonetheless runs a sizeable operation that includes some 15 offices in Britain, 16 offices elsewhere around the world, 45,000 customers -- around 2,000 of them in the United States -- a staff of 3,500, and some $45 billion of deposits and funds under management.

In addition to asset management on behalf of the rich, Coutts offers lending, capital market financing, foreign exchange and securities trading, and advice on financial, inheritance, and tax matters.

|Full Range of Services'

"The philosophy is that we should be able to offer the full range of services people expect from a bank," Mr. Howell says.

Here, Coutts is targeting what Mr. Howell terms "relatively sophisticated, internationally oriented" customers, including resident aliens, visitors, recently arrived foreign residents, and first generation Americans "because of the increased likelihood they will be internationally orientated."

In addition the bank hopes to attract professionals and others with strong business or personal connections and interests in Britain who are "part of the business community that travels back and forth and operates out of London and New York."

Competition Increasing

Clients of the bank would have to make an initial deposit of at least $5,000 in their checking accounts and $100,000 on time deposit "with the proviso that we would expect money or funds in the account would be raised to at least $1 million at some near point in the future."

Coutts arrival in New York comes as competition for wealthy customers is increasing.

Virtually all major banks in the United States and abroad have stepped up their efforts to provide international banking services and manage money for wealthy individuals.

Coutts is no exception, and among the main reasons for shifting the bank's headquarters to Zurich were the dominant role Switzerland plays in international private banking and the country's wealth of staff skilled in international asset management and trading.

Sees Advantages over Rivals

Mr. Howell, who sees as his main competitors Switzerland's big three banks, small Swiss private banks, U.S. and foreign international banks, and U.S. investment banks, nonetheless believes Coutts has some inherent advantages over them besides its famous name.

"The Swiss banks are too Swiss-oriented, big international banks don't really have a particularly effective focus, and investment banks tent to be transaction, rather than relationship, oriented," Mr. Howell says.

"What we offer is a long-term, market-driven strategic approach to relationships with our customers."

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.