The NatWest-Farage Fiasco is a GDPR Nightmare

Published on
26/07/2023 02:41 PM
NatWest Nigel Farage

NatWest CEO Dame Alison Rose has resigned this morning after admitting to sharing inaccurate information about right-wing politician Nigel Farage’s bank account. 

The CEO admitted to making “a serious error of judgement” after she discussed Mr Farage’s financial information with a BBC journalist, who later released an inaccurate report claiming that the politician’s account had been closed due to him not meeting the financial requirements to hold an account at Coutts – a NatWest-owned bank for the rich. 

She had told the BBC that the closing of the account was a “commercial decision” due to “criteria for holding a Coutts account [that] are clear on the bank’s website.” Coutts requires its customers to borrow or invest at least £1 million with the bank or hold a minimum of £ 3 million in savings.

But Mr Farage, a former leader of the UK Independence Party and a Brexiteer, said he met those criteria, claiming that his account was instead closed due to his far-right political views. 

The former UKIP leader subsequently obtained a document containing notes from his bank that contradict the BBC story, appearing to show that Coutts staff had spent months compiling evidence on the “significant reputational risks of being associated with him.”

The document flagged concerns that he was “xenophobic and racist,” stating that to have Mr Farage as a customer was not consistent with Coutts’ “position as an inclusive organisation” given his political views.” 

Dame Allison said she had not revealed any personal financial information about Mr Farage to the BBC, but admitted she had left the BBC's business editor Simon Jack "with the impression that the decision to close Mr Farage's accounts was solely a commercial one."

But she had come under mounting pressure from Downing Street, the chancellor and other senior cabinet ministers to resign, who said they had "significant concerns" over her conduct.

A string of Tory MPs, including former cabinet minister David Davis and Saqib Bhatti, the Conservative Party’s vice-chairman for business, had also called for Dame Alison’s resignation.

NatWest is part government-owned, with 39 per cent of it owned by the taxpayer after the government bailed the bank after its collapse during the 2008 financial crisis. 

Following her resignation the government said she was also "no longer a member of the Prime Minister's business council".

'Client Confidentiality'

Mr Farage first reported in early July that his account had been closed and had not been given a reason for the account closure. 

He told the BBC it had taken far too long for Dame Alison to resign, adding that the fiasco showed NatWest needs a “cultural change,” and “ought to go back to being a bank, rather than a moral arbiter for political positions.”

The first rule of banking is client confidentiality. She [Dame Alison] clearly broke that.

“You have to respect the privacy of the customer. You have to respect the GDPR regulations. They were both broken, very clearly, by the boss of Natwest,” Mr Farage said in a separate interview with GB news. 

A GDPR Nightmare

Nigel Farage is just one of the many people reportedly claiming to have had their bank accounts closed by NatWest for seemingly political reasons.

While NatWest is a UK company and therefore exempt from European GDPR regulations, the company would have likely broken the GDPR if it were still in the EU. Either way, it is set to face the wrath of UK regulators in the coming weeks. 

“This is a very serious breach of GDPR. Customers' confidence in Dame Alison will be shot to pieces,” said Tory MP Jonathan Gullis.

“As a NatWest customer, I no longer have confidence in her leadership or the boards, as they shamelessly protect/excuse her behaviour.”

Sheldon Mills, Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) executive director for consumers and competition, said the episode raises concerns about breaches of confidentiality by Coutts and its parent company NatWest.

He also emphasised the importance of a “well-resourced” independent review to investigate the matter “swiftly” and “fully.”

“On the basis of the review and any steps taken by other authorities, such as the Financial Ombudsman Service or Information Commissioner, on relevant complaints, we will decide if any further action is necessary.”

Dame Alison has also left her roles as co-chair of the Energy Efficiency Taskforce and as a member of the Net Zero Council after Energy Secretary Grant Shapps asked her to step down from both positions.

David Lindberg, the CEO of NatWest's retail bank, is among those attending the Treasury summit with 18 other bank chiefs to discuss "de-banking" amid reports that businesses are having their accounts withheld or withdrawn with little or no explanation. 

Freedom of expression is expected to also be discussed at the summit.

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