The Financial Conduct Authority found no evidence that banks are dropping customers for their political opinions, in a preliminary review after former UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage lost his account with Coutts.
(Bloomberg) — The Financial Conduct Authority found no evidence that banks are dropping customers for their political opinions, in a preliminary review after former UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage lost his account with Coutts.
The watchdog said information supplied by 34 firms suggested none of them closed an account in the year through June “primarily because of a customer’s political views.” The most common reasons firms gave for closure were concerns about financial crime or the accounts were dormant, the FCA said in a report published on Tuesday.
The FCA plans to work with firms to verify the data and better understand the reasons behind, for example, the closure of accounts due to reputational risk. “Further work is needed for us to be sure,” Nikhil Rathi, chief executive officer of the watchdog, said in a statement.
The regulator is also researching the wider issue of access to finance, with 1.1m Britons living without a bank account.
The Treasury called in August for the FCA to “urgently” investigate the scale of debanking after Farage protested the closure of his account with NatWest Group Plc’s upmarket Coutts unit, saying his political views were a factor in the bank’s decision. The subsequent row led to the resignation of the bosses of NatWest and Coutts, while Farage has vowed to campaign for others who have been “debanked” on questionable grounds.
“This is an absolute farce,” Farage said by phone on Tuesday. “There are so many people who have been debanked for political reasons, because their views don’t align or because they are PEPs,” he said, referring to politically-exposed persons.
Andrew Griffith, economic secretary to the Treasury, said the regulator has more to do to validate submissions by banks and follow up with debanked customers.
“Free speech is a fundamental human right,” he said in a statement. “Everyone must be able to express their lawful opinions without fear of losing the vital access to a bank account.”
Read More: UK Treasury Asks FCA for Debanking Answers After Farage Debacle
(Adds comment from Treasury minister Griffith in final two paragraphs.)
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