EVEN as private banks go, Weatherbys was something of a niche proposition when Duncan Gourlay decided in 2013 to quit his role at Barclays Wealth to launch the Northamptonshire-based organisation’s Scottish presence.

Founded in 1770 by Jockey Club secretary James Weatherby, the brand has long been associated with the horse racing industry and today administers racing for the British Horseracing Authority and registers all thoroughbred horses in Britain and Ireland within The General Stud Book.

Having gained a banking licence in the mid-1990s, the banking arm has widened its focus in recent years meaning horse racing, while remaining at its core, is no longer the mainstay of the business.

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This, says Mr Gourlay, meant the opportunity to come on board to build its Scottish business from scratch was too tempting to pass up.

“In horse racing there are a lot of wealthy individuals,” he says. “We’ve provided banking services to anyone involved in the horse-racing industry, distributing prize money and managers fees, but the demand from clients was such that they were saying ‘we really like what you do for us on the racing side of things, can you manage our private banking too?’.

“It had a huge attraction for me because of the traditional private banking service it provides and the feeling that that was particularly necessary in the marketplace.

“There was a general feeling, and maybe that was a consequence of the banking crisis, that the service element of banking had dropped off, possibly because banks were trying to be all things to all people. There were big questions about some of the retail banks post-crisis.”

Service is something Weatherbys takes seriously, which is why Mr Gourlay and colleagues including Douglas Noble, who joined as a senior adviser from Brown Shipley earlier this year, spend much of their time on the road visiting customers in their own surroundings.

This inevitably means travelling the length and breadth of Scotland because, while Weatherbys no longer exclusively targets horse racing clients, Mr Gourlay notes that many of the people who bank with it are involved in the rural economy in some shape or form. This, he says, is why private banking in Scotland in particular is “such an interesting sector”.

“The majority of clients who come to us now have nothing to do with horse racing,” he says. “They are very diverse – they’re entrepreneurs or land owners.

“The rural clients have really developed their income streams in the last few years by doing anything from letting property to distilling gin.”

Mr Gourlay says that clients will typically have to have “assets of £3 million plus or income of £300,000” before qualifying for the personal service a bank like Weatherbys offers.

That said, he notes that although “£3m seems like a high number, if you have land interests you can probably quite quickly get to that level”.

This, he says, is particularly useful for clients looking to take out a loan or mortgage because, unlike high street banks whose computer systems would reject any non-standard borrower, Weatherbys can tailor its products to its clients’ needs.

“Everything is targeted to personal circumstances,” he says. “A lot of clients have complex arrangements in terms of income and assets. A traditional bank would say ‘you don’t meet our lending criteria’ but we’re able to look across the whole range of assets. Clients can have art, shares, land – it’s about putting all that together.

“They can have different income streams or might not be taking all the income they are entitled to from their business - you have to look beyond what they are taking as salary and what they can take. We don’t just say we will lend four times salary.”

This can lead to growth opportunities in itself, with the bank now offering mortgages to those aged 70 and over who are typically locked out of the kind of deals offered by mainstream lenders.

“Our mortgages have come about because a number of other banks have neglected that area and if you’re over 70 a mortgage can be quite hard to come by,” Mr Gourlay says.

“For a lot of our clients it comes back to flexibility and looking at the full picture of their assets - they may have income into retirement from business interests or pension income but with high street banks it comes back to box ticking.

“They have a one size fits all approach but everyone is different and you need to take account of that. If people are working longer they have the income and they probably have assets.”

Despite branching out in this way, Weatherbys remains small in comparison to the big banking names, making a pre-tax profit of £6.8m in the year to December 2016, a period in which it also held deposits totalling £587m and had a loan book of £327m.

That does not mean that growth is not on the cards though, with the hire of Mr Noble likely to be the first of several that Weatherbys will make in Scotland.

As Mr Gourlay says: “Ten years ago, 64 per cent of our clients were in London and the South East. Having launched our Scottish office in 2013, we are seeing strong growth in the country and want to further expand our exposure in the major Scottish cities.”