Jim Armitage: You can bank on thisComments Off on Jim Armitage: You can bank on this
Camellia Plc is one of those grand old dames you thought must have withered with the British empire.
Established by whiskered adventurers in Calcutta to ship tea to London in the 1850s, the company grew into a sprawling conglomerate ranging from macadamia nuts in Kenya to metals engineering in Great Yarmouth.
With its agricultural business still thriving, the Aim-listed group’s headquarters are, fittingly, a grade I listed country house on a huge Kent estate.
One of its more recent launches, in 1971, was Duncan Lawrie Private Bank. Set up to manage the family money, it got off to a decent start — who wouldn’t in an era of double-digit interest rates? — and began managing other rich folks’ cash.
But since the financial crisis, along with a slew of other small private banks, it’s been struggling to make money against the overheads of increased regulation and, to be frank, a dwindling number of customers.
Camellia’s chief executive Tom Franks pledged to stick with Duncan Lawrie and invest until it turns around.
But, with a little help from Kleinwort Benson veteran Sally Tennant, who arrived in April, reality got the upper hand. On Monday, the bank was sold, with the loan book going to Arbuthnots for a decent £43 million and the asset management arm to Brewin Dolphin for £28 million.
Good call. Unlike dollar-denominated tea and avocados, where profits are literally growing on trees in a post-Brexit world, customers’ appetite for tiny private banks is dwindling.
Best for Camellia to go back to its roots. Expect other private banks to do the same.