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NatWest’s board slammed its chief executive Alison Rose and threatened to cut her pay after she admitted to being the source of an inaccurate story about Nigel Farage’s bank account closing.
But bank president Howard Davies said that “after careful consideration” the board had decided that Rose would retain her “full confidence”.
Rose has been under increasing pressure since Farage, the former leader of the UK Independence Party, last week presented evidence that he had been stripped of his account at NatWest’s private banking brand Coutts in part because his political views clashed with their values.
Evidence Farage obtained from the bank via a data request contradicts the BBC News story that the closure was done for purely commercial reasons after Farage fell short of his £1m borrowing clause.
Rose admitted on Tuesday to speaking to the BBC about Farage’s account and giving him the impression the closure was “only a business decision”. She accepted that the conversation was a “serious error of judgment”. She said she did not disclose any personal financial information.
“I want to offer my sincerest apologies to Mr Farage for the personal harm caused to him… and I would like to express my apologies to the board of directors and my colleagues,” she said in a statement.
The CEO also said she was not involved in his removal as a client and was unaware at the time of the Coutts Reputational Risk Committee’s report calling Farage a “racist pimp” and a “disingenuous scammer”.
Coutts’ review concluded, “Continuing with NF Bank was [not] Compatible with Coutts due to his stated views which are at odds with our position as an inclusive organization.”
The scandal sparked controversy over the powers banks have to exclude people from the mainstream financial system and the company’s right to terminate relationships with clients it deems inconsistent with its corporate goals and values.
Davies said: “She should not have spoken the way she does. That was an unfortunate error of judgment on her part. Events will be factored into decisions about wages in due course.”
Davies added that “the overall treatment of the circumstances surrounding Mr. Farrag’s accounts was not satisfactory, and had serious consequences for the Bank.” He promised an independent review that would be made public.
Rose will face more scrutiny from regulators over whether she broke any laws.
“We have raised concerns with NatWest and Coutts about allegations of account closures and breaches of customer privacy since they came to light,” said Sheldon Mills, FCA executive director.
He added, “We have made clear our expectations that these issues should be reviewed independently.” “On the basis of the review and any steps taken by the other authorities . . . we will decide whether any further action is necessary.”
Farage called for the resignation of both the president and CEO of NatWest and the CEO of Coutts.
Ms. Alison Rose has now acknowledged being the source. She has breached client confidentiality, and is not qualified to be CEO of the NatWest Group,” he said in a statement on Twitter.
Meanwhile, Peter Flavel, CEO of Coutts, has to take ultimate responsibility for canceling my banking transactions based on my political views. Sir Howard Davies is responsible for overall governance. He clearly fails in this task, at least by his endorsement of their behavior.
“In my opinion – they should all go.”
David Davies, a former Conservative government minister, said: “If Ms Alison had been a bank employee she would have been sacked without notice for breach of client confidentiality. Frankly, she should go.”
NatWest is also facing pressure from some of its largest shareholders over its handling of this episode.
“Rose’s statement still does not answer the question as to the basis for closing his accounts with Coutts,” said one of NatWest’s top 20 contributors. Also, it’s not for her to repeat what Farage has already said [about the closure]. The bank should say why they made their decision in the first place.”
Another top 20s investor told the Financial Times earlier Tuesday that Rose has a “50 per cent chance” of losing her job.
Rose will be among the banking leaders questioned by Chancellor of the Exchequer Andrew Griffiths on Wednesday morning about a “blacklist” of clients over their political views, prompted by Farage’s campaign.