Coutts: language and culture programme

Case Study



Type of Work

Tone of voice
Language programme
Cultural change programme

Changing the way teams think about customers at an iconic British bank


Coutts is a private bank – and an iconic name in the world of wealth. In 2011, the bank had to address the fact that the profile of its clients had changed. Instead of being titled landowners, Coutts clients are now more likely to be business people, sports people or entertainers. A significant number of its clients are truly international – living across multiple jurisdictions.

What we did

We analysed the language used across the whole of Coutts – in English, French and German in its UK, Switzerland and Singapore offices.

In many instances, we found it to be almost Dickensian – and the tone sometimes subservient. It was not the voice of a modern business partner. In fact, we found it was the voice of a butler.

We created a tone of voice that repositioned the organisation as a modern partner that understands the busy, responsible and time-poor lives of its clients.

We created guidelines, along with live examples. And then we trained more than 600 people in teams across the world to adopt the new tone. This sometimes required an amount of persuasion because teams often felt very protective of the Coutts brand and their clients.

We created a separate version of the training for Coutts 24 – the bank’s customer services team.

To make the changes in language sustainable, we also carried out “train-the-trainer” sessions to build language capability into the business.

I think Liz is a true subject matter expert. In my fifteen years in advertising I had never met an individual so dedicated to a single area, nor so determined to understand and express every nuance of brand personality through tone of voice, nor so willing to work in a flexible, collaborative style.

Sarah Wyse Head of Marketing Strategy, Coutts


Coutts still has a consistent, recognisable tone of voice that helps its clients to understand the content of communications – and act quickly on them. Response rates to everything from transactional communications through to marketing comms improved drastically in the immediate aftermath of training – and have remained stable ever since.

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