FCA fires warning shot at NatWest over Coutts crisis

FCA fires warning shot at NatWest over Coutts crisis

  • FCA concerned about a possible ‘breach of customer confidentiality’
  • It might take ‘further action’ against the bank and its bosses
  • Alison Rose admits she did brief the BBC about Farage’s banking arrangements

The City watchdog fired a warning shot at NatWest last night over its handling of the closure of Nigel Farage’s account at its private bank Coutts.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said it was concerned about a possible ‘breach of customer confidentiality’. And it also raised the prospect of taking ‘further action’ against the bank and its bosses. 

The intervention came minutes after NatWest chief executive Alison Rose admitted she did discuss the former Ukip leader’s banking arrangements with BBC business editor Simon Jack.

Under fire: NatWest chief Alison Rose and chairman Howard Davies are fighting for their jobs

Last night NatWest chairman Howard Davies said the decision to brief a BBC journalist was a ‘regrettable error of judgement on her part’.

But he said the board ‘retains full confidence’ in Rose as boss of the taxpayer-backed bank.

The crisis has left both Rose and Davies facing questions over their futures at NatWest, which owns Coutts and was rescued from collapse by the taxpayer in the 2008 financial crisis and remains 39 per cent owned by the state.

Rose has been chief executive since 2019 while Davies took over as chairman in 2015.

NatWest has been under fire since Farage released an internal report from the Coutts Wealth Reputational Risk Committee earlier this month that suggested his political views were part of the reason why his account was closed.

It followed a BBC report that the private bank, which was previously used by the Queen as well as a string of celebrities, closed his account after his wealth fell below the required threshold. 

In a statement last night that underlined the level of concern among regulators, FCA executive director of consumers and competition Sheldon Mills said: ‘We have raised concerns with NatWest Group and Coutts about the allegations. We made clear our expectation that these issues should be independently reviewed and note today’s statement from the NatWest Group board confirming this will happen.

‘It is vital that the review is well resourced and those conducting it have access to all the necessary information and people in order to investigate what happened swiftly and fully.’

Rose also last night broke her silence. She said: ‘I recognise that in my conversations with Simon Jack, I made a serious error of judgment in discussing Mr Farage’s relationship with the bank.’

Rose added that she ‘did not reveal any personal financial information’ about Farage and was ‘not part of the decision-making process’ to close his account, a comment which could turn the spotlight on Coutts boss Peter Flavel. 

She went on: ‘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. I want to extend my sincere apologies to Mr Farage for the personal hurt this has caused him.’

The crisis has thrust the NatWest board into the spotlight. Davies said the board could dock Rose’s pay.

He said: ‘This was a regrettable error of judgement on her part. The events will be taken into account in decisions on remuneration at the appropriate time.’

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