26 July 2023

Government tells banks to comply with financial crime rules after top boss quits

26 July 2023

The Government has said it is vital banks continue to comply with financial crime rules as the sector was hauled into a meeting after the resignation of NatWest boss Alison Rose.

Economic secretary Andrew Griffith told the bosses of some of the UK’s biggest banks on Wednesday that it is important to protect freedom of expression.

It came after former politician Nigel Farage’s bank account with Coutts – a bank for the ultra wealthy – was closed.

The account was shut after Mr Farage’s mortgage payments came to an end. Due to extra checks on so-called politically exposed persons (PEPs), Mr Farage and other politicians are expensive to provide services to.

Therefore, when he had paid off his mortgage he fell below Coutts’ “commercial criteria” basis. The bank cited this, and his public profile as an at times controversial figure with opinions which it said clashed with the bank, as the reasons for why it terminated his account.

The affair caused the resignation of Dame Alison Rose early on Wednesday morning. Dame Alison, as chief executive of Coutts owner NatWest, was the source of a BBC story which claimed that Mr Farage was only terminated for falling below commercial criteria and not for his opinions.

Mr Griffith said: “It is right that the NatWest CEO has resigned.

“This would never have happened if NatWest had not taken it upon itself to withdraw a bank account due to someone’s lawful political views. That was, and is always, unacceptable.”

It was Coutts, not NatWest, which withdrew the account. Mr Farage was later offered a new account with NatWest, although he says that was only after he had complained publicly.

Mr Griffith added: “I hope the whole financial sector learns from this incident. Its role is to serve customers well and fairly – not to tell them how or what to think.”

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, he said: “It is absolutely important, the Government has been crystal clear throughout, that no one should be de-banked because of their political opinions or something within the law that they have said.”

The Treasury said the bank bosses at the meeting had committed to “the principle of non-discrimination based on lawful freedom of expression.”

They also said they would bring their policies in line with the Government’s planned reforms as soon as possible.

The new rules will mean banks have to give 90 days’ notice before closing an account and spell out the reasons for shutting it down. Banks can avoid giving reasons if doing so would interfere in a criminal investigation.

How a bank would do this without alerting a customer to an ongoing criminal investigation was not explained.

The meeting was attended by Barclays UK chief executive Matt Hammerstein, HSBC UK boss Ian Stuart, Philip Robinson, a managing director at Lloyds, Nationwide boss Debbie Crosbie, NatWest retail banking head David Lindberg, Santander UK boss Mike Regnier, Sheldon Mills from the Financial Conduct Authority and James Babbage from the National Crime Agency.

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