The CEO of one of the largest banks in the United Kingdom, NatWest, has announced her resignation after admitting to leaking information regarding the closure of accounts belonging to Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage. Alison Rose, who has been at the helm of NatWest for nearly four years and served the bank for over three decades, made the decision following increased pressure from the UK government to address concerns of political bias in account terminations.
The UK government holds a significant stake of approximately 39% in NatWest, resulting from the bank’s bailout during the 2008 financial crisis when it was still under its then-parent company, Royal Bank of Scotland.
In her statement, Rose acknowledged her “serious error of judgment” in discussing Farage’s banking situation with a BBC journalist. Farage, a polarising figure in British politics known for his association with former US President Donald Trump and his leadership of the right-wing UK Independence Party, recently revealed that a major UK bank, later identified as Coutts, a wealth management arm of NatWest, had terminated his account purportedly due to his political beliefs.
Initially, the BBC reported that the account closure was due to “commercial” reasons, as stated by a senior source at the bank. However, Farage obtained an internal report that reportedly confirmed his political views played a role in the decision. The report, detailed in UK newspapers, cited his publicly stated views on immigration and Black Lives Matter as reasons for account termination.
Rose had earlier apologised to Farage for the “deeply inappropriate language” contained in the bank’s internal report. She also announced a “full review” into the account termination process at Coutts, emphasising that it is not the bank’s policy to close accounts based on customers’ lawful political and personal views.
In response to the controversy, NatWest announced that Coutts CEO Peter Flavel would also step down, acknowledging that the handling of Farage’s case fell below the bank’s standards of service.
During a meeting at the UK Treasury, a minister emphasised the importance of protecting lawful freedom of expression for customers using banking services. The Treasury proposed new regulations that would require banks to provide reasons for account closures and delay such terminations.
Farage revealed in an interview that nearly ten UK banks had refused to provide him with banking services, accusing them of taking “political stances” and acting as “moral arbiters.” UK money laundering regulations mandate banks to conduct stricter risk assessments for “politically exposed persons,” which include high-profile political figures like Farage. However, some lawmakers argue that these rules are applied too rigidly, causing difficulties for many parliamentarians and their families in accessing financial services.
Rose, in her apology to Farage, clarified that she was not involved in the decision to terminate his accounts and that the call was made by Coutts for commercial reasons.
NatWest’s chairman, Howard Davies, expressed his admiration for Rose’s dedication to the bank over her entire career, as she steps down from her position. The bank has appointed Paul Thwaite, the current CEO of NatWest’s commercial and institutional business, to replace Rose temporarily while they search for a permanent successor.
As the controversy surrounding account closures based on political beliefs continues, the UK government and banking industry are facing increasing scrutiny to ensure fair treatment of customers and uphold the principles of free expression.
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