NatWest’s embattled chief executive, Alison Rose, has admitted she was the source of a controversial BBC story about Nigel Farage’s bank accounts and issued a humiliating apology in a bid to save her job.
Rose said he made a “serious error of judgement” in discussing Farage’s banking relationship with his exclusive private lender Coutts, in a conversation with a BBC reporter this month.
Banking group chairman Sir Howard Davies said Rose could see his pay cut as a result of the controversy, which erupted after Coutts closed the former UKIP leader’s accounts earlier this year.
The statement came as the city’s watchdog warned it could take “additional action” against NatWest and Coutts if an independent review by the lender, or investigations by other authorities, including the information commissioner, reveal wrongdoing.
The state-backed bank has been caught up in a firestorm over Coutts’ justification for closing Farage’s accounts. The former MEP obtained and published internal bank documents last week showing Coutts believed his alleged “xenophobic, chauvinistic and racist views” did not align with his values. Those documents also showed that Farage had been “below commercial criteria for some time,” referring to the criteria for having multimillion-dollar savings or investments that Coutts uses to select clients.
Despite the apology, Farage said Rose “broke client confidentiality and is unfit to be CEO of NatWest.”
However, Davies said the board was giving its full backing to its 53-year-old chief executive, who has spent her career at the lender.
“The board has taken note of Alison Rose’s statement regarding the circumstances of her conversation with [BBC journalist] Simon Jack and his further apology to Mr Farage,” Davies said in a statement.
“As she admits, she shouldn’t have spoken the way she did. This was an unfortunate error in judgment on her part. The facts will be taken into account in decisions on remuneration in a timely manner. However, after careful reflection, the board concluded that it retains full confidence in Ms. Rose as chief executive of the bank,” she added.
Rose said in her own statement on Tuesday that she made a “serious error in judgement” during a conversation with Jack, the BBC News business editor, in which she confirmed that the bank had made a “business decision” in closing Coutts de Farage’s account and offering her a NatWest account.
The BBC later reported that Farage had been ousted from the bank due to the fact that his clients must have £3m in savings or borrow or invest £1m.
Rose had this to say when speaking to the reporter: “I repeated what Mr. Farage had already said, that the bank saw this as a business decision. I would like to emphasize that in answering Mr. Jack’s questions I did not reveal any personal financial information about Mr. Farage.”
He added: “Simply put, I was wrong to answer any question raised by the BBC about this case. I want to extend my sincerest apologies to Mr. Farage for the personal harm this has caused him and I have written to him today.”
Rose became the bank’s first female chief executive in late 2019, when it was still known as the Royal Bank of Scotland Group. The bank, which was bailed out by taxpayers during the 2008 financial crisis, remains 38.6% owned by the UK government.
Davies said the board found the overall handling of Farage’s accounts to have been “unsatisfactory” and had “serious consequences for the bank”. He confirmed that the board would launch an independent review that would look at the closure and the lessons that could be learned from the controversy.
Rose apologized to Farage last week for comments included in the report, while the government introduced new rules aimed at protecting free speech and increasing the transparency of bank account closures. The city minister will hold a meeting with the UK’s 19 biggest banks on the matter on Tuesday.
The Financial Conduct Authority said it welcomed the independent review of NatWest, which it had lobbied for when it contacted the group in the wake of Farage’s allegations. “It is vital that the review is well-resourced and those conducting it have access to all the information and people necessary to investigate what happened quickly and fully,” said FCA director of competition and consumer Sheldon Mills.
“Based on the review and any action taken by other authorities, such as the Financial Ombudsman Service or information commissioner, on the relevant complaints, we will decide whether any further action is necessary,” Mills added.
Farage said: “Alison Rose has now admitted that she is the source. She breached client confidentiality and is unfit to be CEO of NatWest Group. Meanwhile, Coutts CEO Peter Flavel must take ultimate responsibility for unbanking me based on my political views. Sir Howard Davies is responsible for the general government. He has clearly failed in this task, let alone endorsing his conduct. In my opinion, they should all go.”