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NatWest’s board has criticised its chief executive Alison Rose and threatened to dock her pay after she admitted being the source of an inaccurate story about the closure of Nigel Farage’s bank account.
But the bank’s chair Howard Davies said that “after careful reflection” the board had decided Rose retained their “full confidence”.
Rose has been under mounting pressure since Farage, the former UK Independence Party leader, produced evidence last week that he had been stripped of his account at NatWest’s private banking brand Coutts in part because his political views went against its values.
The evidence Farage obtained from the bank via a data request conflicted with a BBC News story that the closure was made for purely commercial reasons after Farage fell below a £1mn borrowing requirement.
On Tuesday Rose admitted speaking to a BBC reporter about Farage’s account and giving him the impression that the closure was “solely a commercial” decision. She accepted the conversation was a “serious error of judgment”. She said she did not disclose any personal financial information.
“I want to extend my sincere apologies to Mr Farage for the personal hurt this has caused him . . . I would like to say sorry to the board and my colleagues,” she said in a statement.
The CEO also said she was not involved in removing him as a customer and was not aware at the time of a report by the Coutts reputational risk committee that described Farage as “pandering to racists” and a “disingenuous grifter”.
The Coutts review concluded that “continuing to bank NF was [not] compatible with Coutts given his publicly-stated views that were at odds with our position as an inclusive organisation”.
The scandal has sparked a debate on the powers that banks have to exclude people from the mainstream financial system and of a company’s right to end relationships with customers whom it deems conflict with its corporate purpose and values.
Davies said: “She should not have spoken in the way she did. This was a regrettable error of judgment on her part. The events will be taken into account in decisions on remuneration at the appropriate time.”
Davies added that the “overall handling of the circumstances surrounding Mr Farage’s accounts has been unsatisfactory, with serious consequences for the bank”. He promised an independent review, which will be made public.
Rose will face further scrutiny from regulators on whether she broke any laws.
“We have raised concerns with NatWest and Coutts about the allegations relating to account closures and breach of customer confidentiality since these came to light,” said Sheldon Mills, executive director at the Financial Conduct Authority.
“We made clear our expectation that these issues should be independently reviewed,” he added. “On the basis of the review and any steps taken by other authorities . . . we will decide if any further action is necessary.”
Farage called for the resignations of both the chair and chief executive of NatWest and the chief executive of Coutts.
“Dame Alison Rose has now admitted that she is the source. She broke client confidentiality, and is unfit to be CEO of NatWest Group,” he said in a statement on Twitter.
“Meanwhile Coutts CEO Peter Flavel must take the ultimate responsibility for de-banking me based on my political views. Sir Howard Davies is responsible for overall governance. He has clearly failed in this task, least of all by endorsing their conduct.
“In my view — they should all go.”
David Davis, a former Tory cabinet minister, said: “If Dame Alison had been a bank clerk she would have been summarily dismissed for breaching a customer’s confidentiality. Frankly, she should go.”
NatWest is also facing pressure from some of its largest shareholders over its handling of the episode.
“Rose’s statement still doesn’t answer the question as to the basis for closing his accounts with Coutts,” said one top-20 shareholder in NatWest. “Also, it’s not for her to repeat what Farage has already said [about the closure]. It’s for the bank to state why they took their decision in the first place.”
Another top-20 investor told the FT earlier on Tuesday that Rose had a “50 per cent chance” of losing her job.
Rose will be among bank leaders questioned on Wednesday morning by Treasury minister Andrew Griffith over the “blacklisting” of customers for their political views, prompted by Farage’s campaign.