The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley. Robert Burns

We were parked at a service plaza on Route 3, just inside the Zurich cantonal border, and Dr. Brenner had gotten an urgent message to call his office. Now he and I were standing in the parking lot a ways apart from the others.

“You’re not going to believe this,” Dr. Brenner said. “Our client called my office less than an hour ago.”

Goldie?

“Yes, Miss Goldie.” (As he always called her.) “She said she is very sorry for the late notice, but she’s so mad at Credit Suisse she doesn’t want to give them any more of her business. She wants her gold to be stored in some other vault.”

Dr. Brenner and I stared at each other for a long moment, then we both turned and stared at the huge armored car and its heavily-armed security detail. Four military policemen, including a lieutenant colonel, were standing near it with automatic rifles slung across their backs. Three Zurich cops were standing near the soldiers in full SWAT gear.

Swiss civilians came and went, gawking at the armored vehicle and its security detail. Cars sped by on the autobahn. We had many millions of dollars of gold bullion and nowhere to put it.

“This isn’t good,” I said. Dr. Brenner nodded agreement. “This is, in fact, a real mess.” He agreed. “And you and I,” I continued, “are totally [expletive deleted].”

It took a while but eventually my brain began to function again, albeit not at full speed. “There must be,” I said, “other vaults in Zurich.”

“Of course,” Dr. Brenner said. “There’s Swiss Bank Corp and Union Bank.” (Those two later merged to form UBS.) “There are the private banks, Pictet and Lombard Odier. There are also a few commercial vaults under the airport.”

I nodded. “Okay,” I said, “that’s good. Now, if you were a crazy American lady who owned lots of gold bullion and who just decided at the last minute that she doesn’t like Credit Suisse, where would you want to store the gold?”

Dr. Brenner gave a helpless shrug and shook his head. But then his face lit up and he pointed a finger at my chest. “The Zurich Cantonal Bank!” he said.

I couldn’t have been more surprised if he’d suggested we dump the gold in the Zürichsee. The Cantonal Bank was a tiny minnow – no, a plankton – compared to the big, global Swiss banks. Moreover, it was owned by the Canton of Zurich, not public shareholders, and as far as I knew it did no business outside the canton.

Observing the look on my face, Dr. Brenner said, “I know what you’re thinking. But a few years ago the Cantonal Bank built a new, state-of-the-art vault under a new branch bank on the edge of the city. It’s in a light industrial area, so it’s well away from the bustle of the Bahnhofstrasse. And I happen to know they have plenty of empty vaults they’re struggling to fill.”

“Perfect,” I said. “The Cantonal Bank it is, let’s go.”

But as I turned away Dr. Brenner took hold of my arm. “It’s not so simple, Dr. Curtis! Our client is unknown to the Cantonal Bank. She will need to be introduced, the bank will need to carry out its KYC procedures [Know Your Client], accounts will need to be opened and funded, a rental agreement for the vault will need to be signed and paid for six months in advance. This will take days, maybe a week!”

I waved these trivialities aside. “Call your man at the Cantonal Bank,” I said. “Tell him that in twenty minutes a huge armored car will pull up outside his front door, surrounded by heavily-armed soldiers and cops. And all that mess will stay right there until he gets a vault open and ready for us.”

Dr. Brenner looked shocked. “You have a better idea?” I said. He admitted that he didn’t and went off to make his call.

Twenty minutes later we were parked in front of the bank. As Dr. Brenner had said, it was located at the edge of the city in a new building in a light industrial neighborhood. What Dr. Brenner hadn’t said was that there was a park across the street from the bank and that park happened to be hosting a busy farmer’s market.

Even as we exited our car and headed inside the bank, shoppers at the farmer’s market were crossing the street to gawk at the amazing sight of a giant armored vehicle surrounded by heavily armed soldiers and cops.

Inside we were met by a very nervous bank official who was patting the sweat on his brow with a handkerchief and saying, “We’re not used to doing business like this, I’m afraid.”

“It’s okay,” I said, “the boys over on the Bahnhofstrasse deal with this sort of thing all the time.”

We were escorted upstairs and into a small, beige, sterile room with little in it but a table, chairs and phone, and we got down to business. Notwithstanding Dr. Brenner’s assurance that all the paperwork and procedures would take days or longer, the presence of the armored car outside the bank’s front door and the prospect of renting a very large vault to a very rich American lady greased the wheels considerably.

I opened an account in Goldie’s name using my power of attorney (and Dr. Brenner’s certification of it), then signed the rental agreement for the vault. The bankers then disappeared for forty minutes, presumably doing (or pretending to do) their KYC. They finally returned, all smiles, and were happy to let us know that everything had been taken care of satisfactorily.

“That’s wonderful!” I said, and we all shook hands. And that’s when the you-know-what hit the fan.

Next up: Goldie, Part 6

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