NatWest CEO Resigns Amid Coutts "De-Banking" Saga

Tom Burroughes Group Editor London 26 July 2023

NatWest CEO Resigns Amid Coutts

The departure of the CEO shows how removing an account from the political and media figure has raised questions about the extent to which lenders should allow political views to sway decisions about clients' accounts. The CEO of NatWest also apologised for discussing Nigel Farage's banking arrangements with a BBC journalist.

(Updates with share price, reaction from Sir Keir Starmer.)

The chief executive of NatWest, Alison Rose, has resigned from her post with immediate effect after she admitted that she erred in discussing former UKIP leader Nigel Farage's account with a BBC journalist. Coutts, the private bank that is part of NatWest, "de-banked” the public figure in part, so reports revealed, because the lender disliked his opinions.

In a statement issued today, Howard Davies, NatWest's chairman, said: “The board and Alison Rose have agreed, by mutual consent, that she will step down as CEO of the NatWest Group. It is a sad moment. She has dedicated all her working life so far to NatWest and will leave many colleagues who respect and admire her.”

Rose said: “I remain immensely proud of the progress the bank has made in supporting people, families and business across the UK, and building the foundations for sustainable growth. My NatWest colleagues are central to that success, and so I would like to personally thank them for all that they have done.”

NatWest said that for an initial period of 12 months, and subject to regulatory approval, the board has appointed Paul Thwaite, the current CEO of the commercial and institutional business, to take over the responsibilities of leading NatWest Group. A further process will take place in due course to appoint a permanent successor.

Shares in NatWest were down 3.42 per cent from the open today, at 242.6 pence per share.

Yesterday, NatWest had said it retained “full confidence” in Rose. The saga, which sheds light on whether a form of "cancel culture" has infected banking and finance, has become a political as well as a financial storm, damaging the reputation of NatWest and Coutts, and leading political figures such as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to call for more protection of free speech.

A key development was BBC journalist Simon Jack's report that Coutts had de-banked Farage because his financial condition fell below the minimum sum required. Jack had been sitting next to Rose at a recent event. It turns out that the explanation he gave in a report was incorrect, or at least incomplete. A report by the Daily Telegraph (19 July) referred to a “reputational risk committee” at Coutts, stating that it “exited” Farage after considering a dossier about his comments on Brexit, his friendship with Donald Trump and views on LGBT rights as among reasons why he was not compatible with the bank's values. 

There has been criticism that by talking to Jack about Farage, the NatWest CEO crossed a line of client confidentiality. 

Farage, who is also a presenter for GB News, had called for Rose and Coutts’ CEO, Peter Flavel, to resign. He also said that Howard Davies, NatWest’s chairman, should also stand down. 

Farage was quoted saying that Rose "has now admitted that she is the source. She broke client confidentiality and is unfit to be the CEO of NatWest Group. 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."

NatWest statement
In its statement yesterday, NatWest said: “As she [Rose] recognises, she should not have spoken in the way she did. This was a regrettable error of judgement on her part."

“The board is clear that the overall handling of the circumstances surrounding Mr Farage's accounts has been unsatisfactory, with serious consequences for the bank. The board will commission an independent review into the account closure arrangement at Coutts, and the lessons to be learnt from this,” it concluded.

Rose’s statement 
Rose said in her statement yesterday that she recognised that in her conversations with Simon Jack of the BBC, "I made a serious error of judgment in discussing Mr Farage’s relationship with the bank." 

“Believing it was public knowledge, I confirmed that Mr Farage was a Coutts customer and that he had been offered a NatWest bank account. Alongside this, I repeated what Mr Farage had already stated, that the bank saw this as a commercial decision. I would like to emphasise that in responding to Mr Jack’s questions I did not reveal any personal financial information about Mr Farage. In response to a general question about eligibility criteria required to bank with Coutts and NatWest I said that guidance on both was publicly available on their websites. In doing so, I recognise that I left Mr Jack with the impression that the decision to close Mr Farage’s accounts was solely a commercial one.”

“I was not part of the decision-making process to exit Mr Farage. This decision was made by Coutts, and I was informed in April that this was for commercial reasons. At the time of my conversations with Mr Jack, I was not in receipt of the contents of the Coutts Wealth Reputational Risk Committee materials subsequently released by Mr Farage,” Rose continued. “I have apologised to Mr Farage for the deeply inappropriate language contained in those papers and the board has commissioned a full independent review into the decision and process to ensure that this cannot happen again.”

“Put simply, I was wrong to respond to any question raised by the BBC about this case. I want to extend my sincere apologies to Mr Farage for the personal hurt this has caused him and I have written to him today,” she continued. 

This news service has commented on the case here. NatWest is due to issue first-half 2023 financial results on 28 July. 

Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party and official opposition, was quoted by the Financial Services as saying that NatWest was wrong in its treatment of Farage.

“He [Farage] shouldn’t have had his personal details revealed like that. And it doesn’t matter who you are, that’s a general rule. “No one should be refused banking service because of their political views. If indeed they are, I don’t know that we’ve got to the bottom of this.”

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