The chief executive of one of Britain’s biggest banking groups, NatWest, is resigning amid a private banking scandal.
NatWest Group announced this morning that Dame Alison Rose would step down from her position, following controversy regarding the decision to de-bank a pro-Brexit politician.
At the end of last month, Nigel Farage, who used to be an MEP, revealed that the private bank Coutts – which is part of NatWest Group – had informed him that they would be discontinuing their relationship with him. Farage claims he has been cancelled for his political views.
Rose goes after admitting ‘error of judgement’
Coutts, which is a bank for high-net-worth individuals, requires account holders to invest or borrow at least £1m or have £3m in savings. An internal source initially told the BBC that Farage fell below those requirements, insisting the decision to end their relationship was “purely commercial”. The source pointed out that Coutts had waited for Farage’s mortgage term to end before making the decision, and claimed they had offered him a standard account with NatWest bank instead.
Farage insisted the bank had never before raised the issue of whether he met the minimum wealth threshold. He acquired a dossier of emails and documents from the bank that lays out the internal rationale that went into the decision. It claims the politician is “seen as xenophobic and racist” and that he is “considered by many to be a disingenuous grifter”.
“His publicly stated views were at odds with our position as an inclusive organisation,” the dossier continues.
Rose apologised to Farage for the “deeply inappropriate comments”, but it later emerged she had been the source of the BBC story. Accused of leaking sensitive financial information about a client, she admitted to a “serious error of judgement” but claimed she believed the information was already in the public domain.
Last night, she agreed to leave the banking group “by mutual consent”. Paul Thwaite will take over NatWest’s Commercial and Institutional business for an initial period of 12 months, while a further process will start to find a permanent successor.
Should people have a right to a bank account?
The controversy has reignited tensions in Britain’s already-fractious politics, stirring up debate about free speech and the importance of financial services. There have been calls for consumers to have better recourse when a bank decides to close their account, and the government has vowed to act – although it’s not clear what powers it would have to tell private institutions who they do business with.
Farage claims he has since been turned away from other British banks, and that he may look to fintech as a solution. But if he were left unbanked, he would not be alone; there were over 1m unbanked individuals in the UK in 2019, the FCA estimated at the time.
Speaking about her departure from NatWest, Alison Rose says: “I remain immensely proud of the progress the bank has made in supporting people, families and business across the UK, and building the foundations for sustainable growth. My NatWest colleagues are central to that success, and so I would like to personally thank them for all that they have done.”
Howard Davies, Chairman of the NatWest board, described the last 24 hours as “a sad moment” and added that Rose had “dedicated all her working life so far to NatWest and will leave many colleagues who respect and admire her.”
Posting on Twitter, Nigel Farage says: “I hope that this serves as a warning to the banking industry. We need both cultural and legal changes to a system that has unfairly shut down many thousands of innocent people.”
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