Coutts Banking Battle: What can we learn?
The Nigel Farage Coutts banking battle has dominated headlines for the best part of a month and the former UKIP’s leader’s media-savvy approach has resulted in a full-blown crisis at the elite private bank. The closure of a single bank account has sparked debates in Westminster, government pressure, internal investigations, high-profile resignations and a public relations disaster for Natwest and Coutts.
The story has multiple elements and it is clear that there are political forces at play here. However – despite the complexities and the drama, the headlines and leaks – this PR crisis can be put down to a few grave errors which have had severe consequences for the bank and its leadership team.
Practise what you preach
The failure to live up your standards, rules and values will always lead to significant risk of reputational damage, especially for a major organisation like Natwest/Coutts where scrutiny is guaranteed. The (recently) former CEO of Natwest Alison Rose breached client confidentiality, a cornerstone of banking regulation, when she spoke to the BBC Business Editor Simon Jack about the reasons behind Farage’s account closure. This ‘serious error of judgement’, as described by Rose, went against Natwest’s policies and proved impossible to justify.
Have ‘one line to take’ (and it better be true)
The Coutts scandal has been spurred on by the murky nature of the story and the conflicting versions of accounts. The initial line told to the BBC by Natwest cited a failure to reach financial thresholds as the core reason for the account closure. Farage’s subsequent subject access request revealed that political views certainly played a part as the bank were worried that his views ‘do not align with our values’. The lack of early transparency from Natwest has had drastic consequences, as the story has become entangled with various narratives and fed into the media furore. On the onset of a crisis, it is crucial to identify the correct ‘one line to take’ and stick to this, to avoid a situation similar to this scandal unfolding.
Of course, there are a multitude of factors which combined for this crisis, but the breach of confidentiality and the inaccurate reasoning cited by Coutts have driven this story from a mere closure of an account to an institutional crisis and front-page constant. Only time will tell what implications the story has for the futures of Natwest, Coutts, its leaders and Farage.
By Joe MacIntyre