Duncan Lawrie has a baa-my idea... which works!

Some of the sheep at Wrotham Place, owned by Duncan Lawrie.
Some of the sheep at Wrotham Place, owned by Duncan Lawrie.

Few banks boast a flock of sheep among their staff.

But Duncan Lawrie, a private bank in the 15th century Wrotham Place, likes to be different.

The elegant back office bought by DL in the late 1970s is set in 23 acres of attractive gardens, lake, woodland, orchard and a vegetable patch tended by staff.

The grass is kept short by 32 Grey Faced Dartmoor sheep, one of the hardiest of the longwool breeds and among the oldest in Britain.

They earn their keep by trimming the lawns and shedding their coats. "The only income we get from them is when they are sheared," says Dina Henry, associate director. Nine lambs arrived this year and remain a big draw for the firm's staff - and admiring urban visitors.

The wildlife also features honeybees and several bird species. There is a sundial in the walled garden, and a ha ha to keep the animals out and the view uninterrupted. A statue in the grounds sums up the DL mission statement: "The deed is all, the glory nothing."

Some of the sheep at Wrotham Place, owned by Duncan Lawrie.
Some of the sheep at Wrotham Place, owned by Duncan Lawrie.

That so few know about this low-profile bank - "I've never heard of it" is a frequent observation - has prompted DL to promote its services to a wider public.

"If we can grow the business in Kent and the South East, that would be wonderful," says Ms Henry

Peter Ostacchini, deputy managing director, adds: "We are trying to make an effort to get our name better known. There are misconceptions about a private bank. People think they are not wealthy enough to be with us, and that it's expensive.

"But if they have incredibly busy lives and need someone to phone and speak to, who knows them and doesn't ask for their mother's maiden name or date of birth, this is a place to be."

Duncan Lawrie targets moderately wealthy business owners and professionals, as well as owner-managed businesses with up to five employees. "We try to encourage local businesses to bank with us and find a reason to say yes," says Ostacchini.

Staff are not paid commission and investors with £5,000 in their account do not pay bank charges, while those with lower balances pay £25 a month.

The average age of a DL client is 54, and the bank aims to cut this by one year every year. "We realise we have to appeal to the younger client."

High street banks plunged into a liquidity crisis by over-lending. DL says it does not lend more than its share capital reserves. "If depositors want their money, we can give it back," says Ostacchini, adding that it prides itself on cautious, traditional banking. "Because we're cautious and safe, people like that. It means quick decision-making."

"We will be working hard this year on making more of our presence in Kent," adds Ms Henry, from Otford.

And for anyone who wants to see those rare sheep, DL staff will be happy to help.

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