RUTH SUNDERLAND: Holding NatWest to account
- Review of ‘debanking’ issue at Coutts Landing at any time with the board of directors
- It is not likely to appease Nigel Farage or anyone else.
- Part of a depressing history of supposedly independent investigations into bank failures
The review of the Nigel Farage debacle and the wider issue of the “unseating” at Coutts, the posh part of NatWest, is due to come before the bank’s board any day now.
This work, commissioned by NatWest in late July from law firm Travers Smith, is unlikely to appease Mr Farage or anyone else.
Nothing will likely be released before the end of October. The board, led by chairman Sir Howard Davies, who also emerged tarnished by the affair, will take several weeks to assimilate the conclusions.
The intention is simply to publish the key findings, along with the recommendations and disciplinary actions that the bank plans to take (and is required to disclose by regulations).
It will reveal any payback and bonuses for Dame Alison Rose, who will be paid a £2.4m package under her contract, along with Travers Smith’s report, as she must do so under stock market rules.
A sign of the times: NatWest commissioned a review of the Nigel Farage debacle and the wider “unseating” issue in late July
However, there is no such requirement to reveal whether Peter Flavel, the former chief executive of Coutts, who is believed to have earned between £1.5m and £2m a year, is also being hit with deep pocket retaliation.
We won’t know anything until Coutts’ annual report next year and that document is unlikely to give the full picture.
Leaving aside Farage’s dismissal of the Travers Smith review as a cover-up by an establishment law firm, it is undeniably limited in scope. The review does not examine, for example, the chaotic nature of Rose’s resignation, where Davies initially supported it and then backtracked after a late-night intervention from the Treasury.
Nor is it about how Davies, who will step down in the spring, handled the matter.
It is part of a long and depressing history of supposedly independent investigations into the failings of our banks. Almost without exception, these turn out to be a huge waste of time and money that results in no one being held accountable.
Possibly the most egregious example is the investigation into the HBOS managers who were in charge when it reached the brink.
An investigation that had cost city regulators £7.2 million ended last summer, 14 years after the event. No action resulted.
Similarly, a Financial Conduct Authority investigation into the scandal at NatWest’s former GRG unit, which was supposed to help troubled small and medium-sized businesses back to health, decided in 2019 not to punish the bank. This was despite evidence of widespread mistreatment of customers after the 2008 crisis. The identities of the managers accused of being responsible were kept secret.
Investigations can be hampered by “Maxwellization,” which is named after the late tycoon Robert Maxwell and gives people the right to respond to criticism.
In the case of the HBOS investigation, 1,425 statements were obtained from 35 people, which were followed by a new Maxwellization.
A new variant appears to be a reluctance to publish adverse findings against identified individuals due to claims that may violate privacy or data protection laws.
Be that as it may, it may appear that the system is geared towards the interests of employers to protect themselves, as well as to protect companies and regulators from lawsuits.
That mentality was on display when the Bank of England argued that people should not be named in a report into the £236 million collapse of London Capital and Finance, which was critical of Governor Andrew Bailey.
The taxpaying public, who have supported NatWest for so long in the face of so many disasters, deserve better.