NatWest CEO apologizes to ex-Ukip leader Farage

NatWest-RBS CEO Alison Rose

NatWest chief executive Alison Rose has apologised to Nigel Farage, former leader of the pro-Brexit UK Independence Party, for dropping him as a client of the group’s private bank Coutts.

The CEO’s apology came as the UK Treasury unveiled plans to force banks to “explain and delay” any decision to close a bank account, under new rules designed to protect freedom of expression.

Rose said in a statement: “The deeply inappropriate comments made in the now published papers prepared for the Wealth Reputation Risk Committee, do not reflect the view of the bank.

“No individual should have to read such comments and I apologise to Mr Farage for this. I have written to him today to make that apology and reiterate our offer of alternative banking arrangements.

“In addition, I am commissioning a full review of the Coutts processes for how these decisions are made and communicated to ensure we provide a better, more transparent experience for all our customers in the future.

“The review will be reporting to me as NatWest Group CEO.

“As previously stated, I welcome the FCA’s reviews of regulatory rules associated with Politically Exposed Persons, and we will implement the recommendations of our review alongside any changes that they or the  Government makes to the overall regulatory framework.”

The UK Treasury said in a statement that banks will be forced to “explain and delay any decision to close an account under new rules, protecting freedom of expression.”

It said the government has stepped in to address fears that banks are terminating accounts because they disagree with someone’s political beliefs.

The changes will increase the notice period 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.

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.”

Rose added: “Both freedom of expression and access to banking are fundamental to our society. It is not our policy to exit a customer on the basis of legally held political and personal views.

“Decisions to close an account are not taken lightly and involve a number of factors including commercial viability, reputational considerations, and legal and regulatory requirements.

“I fully understand the public 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. Those decisions should also be communicated clearly and openly with them, within the constraints imposed by the law.

“To achieve this, wider change is required. But the experience of clients highlighted in recent days has shown we need act now to put our processes under scrutiny.”