Under a white light, a long silent hallway, the black and white checkered tiled floor up to the creepage: an ideal corridor for a Stanley Kubrick tracking shot. On the sides, tight along shelves that extend for several tens of meters, hundreds of filing cabinets arranged in chronological order. Each contains a part of British history since one could find there the statements of account of the novelist Jane Austen (Reason and feelings), the romantic poet Lord Byron, or Samuel Pepys, a sharp columnist from Stuart England, who witnessed the great London fire of 1666.
These three characters have in common that they have entrusted their money to the very venerable C. Hoare Bank, the oldest bank of the kingdom, owned and managed by the Hoare family since … 1672. Nearly three hundred and fifty years later, cross the doors of the patrician residence of Fleet Street – its seat since 1690, recognizable by its gold-plated sign, a reference to the goldsmith's craft of the ancestor of the dynasty – is deserved. Do not enter who wants in the holy of holies of an establishment which counts only 15 000 "relations", as it names its duly selected customers.
"Share the same values"
In this world of good education, of earthly and Anglican values, it is the customer who has a recruitment interview … and not the other way around. "We set up an appointment to get to know each other, and then the discussion goes on.", tells, amused, Bella Hoare, associate and descendant in direct line of the founder, Richard Hoare. It's not just about making money – here everyone pretends not to talk about money. It is rather about "Share the same values", precise, eyes narrowed, Alexander Hoare.
At age 58, this former computer scientist and his cousins are the eleventh generation of a family proud of its longevity. The City can bend well – as in the 2008 financial crisis,
or now because of Brexit, which casts a shadow over its attractiveness
– C. Hoare Bank remains. "The crisis of 2008 brought us customers"Alexander slips, not without offering us a cup of tea. Individuals scalded by the flurry of high finance that eventually evaporate billions of assets.
The questions of this end of the decade do not seem to worry him more. "Brexit affects us very little. We are a UK bank for a British clientele. " And the negative rates that worry the European banks, as they trim margins? "We pass it on deposits in euros and Swiss francs. We do not lose money »says Alexander. This phlegm displayed is not for nothing in the success of the house with the "gentry", its core customer, which has over time expanded to the world of business.
Another reassuring element: the six partners – of course family members – are responsible for their personal property and pay only a symbolic dividend: 6,000 pounds last year, for an annual profit of 26 million pounds. The management of the bank, finally, is the subject of a strict selection process. Out of 2,000 descendants, only about twenty people work in the establishment. "It's a mix of nepotism and meritocracy"Alexander summed up recently in an interview with Bloomberg.
In these conditions, customers accept rates that are said to be high. For example, simple bookkeeping is charged 60 pounds per month (around 68 euros). We imagine that the rating climbs very quickly depending on the benefits … In return, customers can expect an ultrapersonalized service. So, until regulations make things more formal, "To get a loan, it was enough for a customer to call, he could get an agreement in thirty minutes. The process has become more bureaucratic »says Alexander.
Good relations are also cultivated during receptions and debates in the salons of the first floor. "We had a vote on Brexit at the time of the referendum and we came to a very close result. I do not remember which 'yes' or 'no' had wonsays Bella.
But, at a time when Downton Abbey the risk for C. Hoare is to be reduced to an obsolete image of the relic of the financial system. The establishment – the last independent family bank across the Channel – has clearly identified it. While maintaining his traditions, he opens – very gradually – the windows. In 1996, he welcomed the first woman partner, Venetia Hoare – still a member of the board. They are now two with Bella.
The pressure towards a form of standardization is now stronger, for both regulatory and IT reasons. Because making the bank has become a very expensive sport; small establishments do not necessarily have enough space to support the related costs. With 4.4 billion pounds of assets under management (around 5 billion euros), C. Hoare is only a very average weight in the sector. He resolved in 2017 to sell for £ 72 million his wealth management business – a £ 2.2 billion portfolio – to the asset manager Schroders.
Rejuvenate her image
To lead this transition to more modernity, the Hoare have chosen a general manager who denotes under the paneling. Sporting looks, short hair and firm handshake, Steven Cooper took control in January 2019. He has no private banking experience – he was previously head of British retail banking at Barclays.
From the outset, he wants to rejuvenate the perception: "When you spend time here, you can see traditional family values, the sense of detail, but also a bank more innovative and younger than you think. My biggest surprise on arriving was to find that there was a rock band ", he says. Above all, he refutes the idea that the bank would no longer wish to grow. "I changed the management towards more diversity of genre and experience. I looked for people who are hungry and want to be the best. "
Little revolution, the opening last June of an agency in Cambridge, the first out of London. The "network" (headquarters included) now counts … three agencies. But modernity can also be sorely lacking in poetry. In his letters to the customers, Alexander is the chronicler a little disillusioned with this new era he finds disembodied. "Unfortunately, changing regulations means it's no longer easy to stay in social contact with customers"he writes, apologizing for having to ask for explicit consent before sending an invitation.
The legacy of Henry "the Magnificent"
In more than three centuries of existence, C. Hoare has certainly seen others. The family odyssey began with the meteoric rise of Sir Richard Hoare. The son of a horse dealer, he embarked on seven years of studies to become a silversmith, a corporation very difficult to access in the seventeenth century. From goldsmith to banker, there is only one step: the merchants are looking for reliable people to entrust the custody of their precious metals, in exchange for a certificate of deposit. "The passage to the bank was all the faster at the time that the country was emerging from a civil war [la République d’Oliver Cromwell, NDLR], and that the previous generation of bankers was ruined "says Bella.
After Richard, the dynasty opens with a fanfare by a series of "Henry" to which an adjective has been added to distinguish them. There is "the Fat", "the Good", and then … "the Magnificent". Like a Medici, the latter will carry his name to the highest, "ruling" on the bank for sixty years, until 1785. He will be a great patron of the arts. For the British, his name remains associated with a field of 1,000 hectares, that of Stourhead, where he built an ideal garden, with its real fake lakes, temples and monuments … and his hermit. A marvel bequeathed in 1947 to the National Trust.
A sharp break is emerging in the sixth generation: a religious disagreement then opposes the two Hoare controllers. They decide to alternate with the bank's orders every six months. A diet that works, but their children, very spendthrift and reckless in their investments will bring the company to the edge of the abyss. The lesson was chosen. "There are two things that can destroy a family affair. Business and family Both must be kept in order », sums up Alexander.
Open his archives
Another test, during the Second World War: Hitler bombs that hit London. Employees led by Bertram Hoare save the seat from the flames by drawing water from their artesian well. The bank is working today to make its rich history live. This year, for example, it organizes the Henokiens dinner, an association of family businesses.
The bank is also looking to open its archives … but conditions remain strict. This is possible "With the agreement of the descendants of our customers, if any, and respecting a period of at least one hundred years from the opening of the account"says Bella. It is thus only in 2119 that one will be able to determine which celebrities the establishment counts today in its books.
The price of the Henokiens given to a neighbor
It was a coincidence, but last month, C. Hoare, in charge of the awarding of the Leonardo da Vinci Prize created by the Henokiens Association to promote family entrepreneurship, rewarded a neighbor. DC Thomson is based in Scotland, but its London headquarters are also on Fleet Street. Christopher Thomson, great-great-grandson of the founder of the media group, oversees a group that includes a genealogy company, an IT service provider, and magazine publishers. The Henokiens Association brings together family businesses at least 200 years old. His name comes from Enoch, one of the great patriarchs of the Bible, who would have lived until the age of 365 before being raised to heaven, without dying of earthly way. It now has 48 members in nine countries, active in textiles, wine production, spirits, jewelery, publishing …