Following the ‘debanking’ scandal earlier this summer – when Nigel Farage was dumped by Coutts bank due to his political views – the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority launched an urgent inquiry. It promised to investigate the extent to which banks were denying services to other people on similar grounds.
There was certainly plenty of evidence for the FCA to look at. Metro Bank, PayPal, First Direct, Monzo and fintech company Tide have all been caught debanking political figures from across the political spectrum, including the presenters of the Triggernometry podcast, Scottish-independence campaigner Stuart Campbell and anti-Brexit activist Gina Miller.
And then there are those who have suffered under the ludicrously strict rules applied to politically exposed persons (PEPs) – that is, someone, or the relative of someone, who holds a prominent public position. These rules are meant to prevent corruption and criminal activity, but they often end up punishing innocent citizens. This includes, for example, the disabled granddaughter of the late chancellor, Nigel Lawson.
Debanking certainly appears to be a significant problem. Quite apart from the question of ‘politically exposed persons’, there is clear evidence that banks have been deliberately denying services to people on account of their political beliefs. But if you were expecting the FCA’s investigation to shed a further forensic light on the issue, you will be sorely disappointed. Last month, the FCA concluded its investigation and announced it had found absolutely no evidence of wrongdoing. Move along, nothing to see here.
To have arrived at this conclusion takes some doing. Firstly, the FCA consciously ignored the most damning evidence of debanking – namely, the Farage-Coutts scandal – on the grounds that the data it analysed simply didn’t include it. Given the FCA only launched the investigation because of the Farage-Coutts scandal, this omission is doubly absurd.
But it wasn’t just the Farage case that the FCA ignored. It also disregarded other well-publicised instances of debanking. Instead, the FCA decided that it would be better (and no doubt easier) to simply ask the big banks themselves whether they have consciously debanked a politically divisive customer. Unsurprisingly, the banks claimed that this is not something they do. Satisfied, the FCA concluded that the banks aren’t debanking anyone.
These conclusions are as absurd as the manner in which they were reached. The fact that the UK’s banking regulator has refused to even acknowledge that banks might be overstepping the limits of their authority is deeply troubling.