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Kabooom! When a French wine heiress goes up against a Brummie mobile phones magnate
11/05/2018 , Freddie Pooter

Rarely has private banking seen its dirty washing exposed quite so publicly, from the first lurid stories which started to appear in the press back in 2014 until this week, when the protagonists heard a judge rule on their highly acrimonious dispute.

The two had apparently forgotten the first hallowed rule of private banking: never do anything to frighten horses, women and, most important of all private clients.

It will be fascinating to see how this torrid story plays out.

The warring couple, of course, features Nathalie Dauriac – nowadays sans the “Stoebe” as she has parted from her German husband.  An elegant French wine heiress, she learned her trade with Coutts and then enjoyed a meteoric career as a wealth entrepreneur, setting up Signia Wealth Management. We count ourselves among her many admirers.

Confronting her is Phones4U tycoon John Caudwell.  Birmingham-born John evidently decided on Lawyers4U in taking Nathalie to court over suspicions she had fiddled £33,000 in expenses when running Signia, which he had backed handsomely. She left Signia late in 2014.

The outcome of the judgment is now known. Mr Justice Marcus Smith found Nathalie had been constructively dismissed, but had wrongly claimed expenses.  He also awarded her around £500,000 for her shares in Signia – as opposed to her total claim of up to £20 million.

Honestly, we fail to understand the judgment on expenses. These, the court heard, included a £100 birthday cake for the then hubbie, flights to Malaga for the birthday of a friend and for a 'detox week' in Alicante.

By Jove, shouldn’t a gel be entitled to a few perks like these, particularly if she works 24/7 like Nathalie?

After the judgment, both sides were claiming victory – although it rather looked as if any triumph was a touch pyrrhic, particularly as the legal fees must be pretty huge for both sides. Still, with a net worth not unadjacent to £2 billion from his mobile days, John is perhaps better equipped to pay the lawyers’ fees.

The depth of the bitterness in the affair was shown by a statement by John after the hearing when he declared himself to have “been to hell and back” over allegations levelled at him.

“It is an immense relief to share with you that the court has found Nathalie to have been dishonest, to have deliberately made expenses claims that, without question, she knew were improper and, when confronted regarding her conduct in this matter was guilty of using junior members of her staff to conceal her wrongdoing through the deliberate and deceitful manipulation of her expense records,” he said.

“'It was a long battle, and I remain deeply scarred by the events, but I am delighted that Nathalie has been found by the judge to have been, in his words, dishonest, combative, aggressive and argumentative.”

Ouch!  In turn, Nathalie rightly insisted on the last word, confessing herself pleased that judge Smith had upheld her constructive dismissal claim.

It was found that the shares “that were taken away from me and valued at just £2 were in fact worth more than £500,000. The court says there was a clear breach of contract and has awarded me significant damages.”

She added: “When it came to my expenses, the judge took little or no account of my role as founder and co-owner of a multimillion pound business, dedicating my personal and social life to generating business and maintaining relations with clients.”

We personally agree with this. Who hasn’t at one time or another padded their expenses claims? Taking a chum for a long lunch or taking a wife, husband, boyfriend or girlfriend to a nice romantic dinner is virtually de rigeur in the City. And wining and dining potential top clients in various countries means lots of travelling.  A quick personal side holiday while on these trips is not unusual in private banking.

If everybody who had at one time or another had engaged in a little subterfuge on their “exes” were to be blackballed, then the Square Mile would be virtually deserted.   Natural justice demands that this should not be a reason for draconian punishment, surely?

Well, that was the judgment but perhaps a number of questions still remain to be asked. Chums wonder whether the FCA busybodies will look at the case in the light of the regulatory duty to ensure proper stewardship of the firms they oversee. And could Signia even be passed on to new owners in due course?  We certainly hope not.

Happily, Lord Fink, who has a controlling interest in Nathalie’s current firm, Hay Hill Wealth Management of Mayfair, will surely give her his full backing.  At Hay Hill, she is in charge of business development which can be regarded as a rather passive management role and not one giving key responsibility under the Senior Managers regime and the like.

So we do hope Nathalie continues to adorn our dear London private banking scene – and doesn’t depart back to her various chateaux in disgust at us rosbifs. She is, thank heavens, a charismatic figure in what sometimes is a rather grey and awfully male-dominated business. 

So Nathalie, do cheer up and remember the immortal songs of your fellow countrywoman:  “La Vie en rose" followed later by the unsurpassed, "Non, je ne regrette rien."

*At least one person came out the Signia case well ahead. Step forward, Ian Rosenblatt, head of the law firm of the same name which has just floated on AIM.  In that happy serendipity which sometimes graces us all, Ian’s firm had represented Nathalie in her court case.

Rosenblatt Group shares were placed at 95p to raise around £75 million. Ian had owned 59 percent pre-float and now holds 21 percent.  A nice little earner, m’Lud.

So we hope he loyally chooses Nathalie’s Hay Hill as his private bankers – rather than popping around to Child & Co, the house which many lawyers have traditionally chosen as their piggy bank.

Pip pip
 

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