For the best in conceptual investing, turn to the Tate

Tate Modern: "The Bank That Does Your Art Thinking For You."

That's the slogan of the first bank in modern times that is aimed exclusively at the art collector. Under the dynamic leadership of its funds manager, Sir Donald Verruca, Tate Modern has developed an art investment programme and advice portfolio second to none.

And it has branches everywhere.

Tate Modern. Tate Britain. Tate St Ives. Tate Liverpool. Tate Direct. Tate Lite. There's a branch of the Tate to suit your requirements, whatever they are.

"We Love Art With A Capital $."

That's another of the Tate's slogans.

But what does it all mean?

"Basically, it means that we love art with a capital $. What could be clearer than that?"

Are you saying that art and money are the same thing?

"Art is an obsession for us," says Sir Donald "Call me Don" Verruca, obliquely. "We eat, drink and sleep art. So, yes, art is money. But it's lots of other things as well. It's a drug, too. Someone once said - me, probably - that an art dealer is well named. He's like a drug dealer."

In the sense that an art dealer, like a drug dealer, is charging vast sums of money for something that costs very little to make?

"No," says Sir Don Verruca, coldly. "In the sense that no price is too high if you want something badly enough. And what we at Tate have done is to reawaken people's thirst for art investment."

And how have they done that?

"You find lots of banks today claiming to take the mystique out of money, and make things plain to everyone," says Don Verruca. "But that's not the way art works. Art depends on an irrational appeal. Our aim is to take the simplicity out of everything and to reintroduce the aura of mystery into art. Art without mystique doesn't sell. It's as simple as that."

One of the big investment ideas that the Tate has introduced is conceptual art appreciation. How does that work exactly?

"Well, one of the best ways of explaining it is to quote the words of Damien Hirst, who is one of our top performers..."

Is that "top performer" as in "highest earner", or "top performer" as in "creative giant"?

"We find it helpful to behave as if they were the same thing," explains Verruca, patiently. "Now, Damien Hirst has revolutionised the way artists work. In the old days, an artist slaved away in his studio all alone, carrying out one project at a time, producing stuff at a very slow rate. Damien is different. When he gets a good idea, he gets in touch with his studio and gets his team to start work on it. They then carry on in his absence. When people tell him that an artist should be hands-on, he says that nobody expects an architect to be hands-on. If an architect designs a great building, should he also have to do the construction work?"

Well, it's a dodgy analogy, but...

"So, it is quite possible for a Damien Hirst conceptual art work to be created in his absence. And - and this is our breakthrough - it should also be possible for an art-lover to appreciate it in his or her absence. That's conceptual art appreciation!"

You mean - you don't actually have to view an art object to appreciate it?

"If you don't have to be there to create it, why should you have to be there to enjoy it? I have met lots of people who approve of Antony Gormley's Angel of the North. Very few of them, I discover, have actually seen it in real life. No, I think that we are gradually being freed from the constraint to actually view art. It is enough to know that you have invested in it. Just sign here, please."

And somehow, without realising it, I find myself pledging myself to turn over hard-earned money to a Tate investment portfolio for a part share in an artist of whom I have never heard.

"Just think of it as saving modern art for the nation," whispers Sir Donald Verruca.

And so I do.

As the Tate bank's slogan has it, "There's an Art Lover Born Every Minute".

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