Letter from CEO
Rose apologises to Farage over cancelled account
NatWest chief executive Dame Alison Rose has delivered a personal apology to former Brexit party leader Nigel Farage following the decision to cancel his bank account.
Dame Alison said the bank had made “deeply inappropriate comments” about him. Her comments came as the Treasury announced a crackdown on banks to protect freedom of expression.
The boss of NatWest, which trades as Royal Bank of Scotland north of the border, wrote to Mr Farage to make clear that comments in a 40-page document compiled by its high net worth private bank Coutts “do not reflect the view” of group.
In a robust defence of freedom of expression, she said there was no policy that excluded customers and offered to give him a NatWest account, but stopped short of offering him his Coutts accounts back.
Mr Farage claimed her apology had been forced on her by the Treasury which has taken separate steps to quell the growing dispute. It erupted after Coutts decided to close his accounts because – according to the dossier – his views did not “align with our values”.
In her letter, Dame Alison said: “I am writing to apologise for the deeply inappropriate comments about yourself made in the now published papers prepared for the Wealth Committee. I would like to make it clear that they do not reflect the view of the bank.
“I believe very strongly that freedom of expression and access to banking are fundamental to our society and it is absolutely not our policy to exit a customer on the basis of legally held political and personal views.”
She promised a “full review of the Coutts processes” in respect of how bank closures are made and communicated to “ensure we provide better, clearer and more consistent” customer experiences.
She added: “I fully understand yours and the public’s concern that the processes for bank account closure are not sufficiently transparent. Customers have a right to expect their bank to make consistent decisions against publicly available criteria and those decisions should be communicated clearly and openly with them, within the constraints imposed by law.
“To achieve this, sector-wide change is required, but your experience, highlighted in recent days, has shown we need to also put our own processes under scrutiny too.”
She added: “I apologise to Mr Farage for this [the dossier]. I have written to him today to make that apology and reiterate our offer of alternative banking arrangements.”
On his GB News show, Mr Farage said: “In life, it’s always good to get an apology so thank you, Dame Alison for apologising, but I can’t help feeling that the Treasury statement preceded what you put out.
“What I’ve been told privately is that you were forced into doing this by the Treasury. The whole letter smacks of ‘Not me, guv, I’m just the chief executive, don’t blame me for what the banks under my direct control are doing.’ ”
He added: “The reaction from the Conservative government on this, if not much else, has been pretty extraordinary and very, very rapid. Freedom of speech is a cornerstone of our democracy, and it must be respected by all institutions.”
He said that he had put in another subject access request to NatWest, asking for correspondence about his case.
Nikhil Rathi, chief executive of the Financial Conduct Authority, told MPs on the Commons’ Treasury committee that the regulator was talking to NatWest about the Farage situation. He said banks were not allowed to discriminate on the basis of a customer’s political views.
The Treasury said that banks will be forced to explain and delay any decision to close an account under new rules to combat closures over political beliefs.
The changes will increase the notice period banks have to offer to 90 days, giving customers more time to challenge a decision through the Financial Ombudsman Service or find a replacement bank.
Banks will also be required to spell out why they are terminating a bank account in an effort to boost transparency and aid customer efforts to overturn decisions.
Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Andrew Griffith, said: “Freedom of speech is a cornerstone of our democracy, and it must be respected by all institutions.
“Banks occupy a privileged place in society, and it is right that we fairly balance the rights of banks to act in their commercial interest, with the right for everyone to express themselves freely.
“These changes will boost the rights of customers – providing real transparency, time to appeal and making it a much fairer playing field.”
The proposed changes follow a call for evidence launched in January, following PayPal’s temporary suspension of several accounts last year. It found that changes were needed to ensure the right balance is being struck between protecting customers, and providers’ rights to manage commercial risk.
They require secondary legislation, which will be delivered through the powers granted in the Financial Services and Markets Act 2023, as part of the Government’s programme in building a Smarter Regulatory Framework for UK financial services.