Earlier this year, Nigel Farage’s Coutts account was closed by the bank after an internal report described him as a “disingenuous grifter” with “xenophobic, chauvinistic, and racist views”. The resulting controversy led to the resignation of NatWest CEO Alison Rose, the launch of an FCA probe into “de-banking” across the sector, and headlines about whether the ex-UKIP leader is more deserving of a bank account than serial killer Rose West.
But do the public think banks and building societies should be allowed to close customer accounts for reputational reasons?
New YouGov data shows that three-quarters of the public (74%) believe institutions should only close an account if they deem the holder to pose a clear financial, regulatory, or legal risk – just 15% think they should be allowed to close an account to protect their public image.
Along political lines, Conservative voters are more likely to think banks should not be allowed to close accounts for PR purposes (89%), with 6% saying the reverse. Labour voters are mostly agreed (64%) but a quarter believe banks should be allowed to shut down accounts due to reputational risk (26%). Both Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Keir Starmer have criticised NatWest over the closure of Farage’s account.
On the question of whether banks have become too politically motivated, two in five say they have (40%), and just 4% think they could stand to be more politically motivated. A quarter (25%) believe they have struck the right balance.
Most Tory voters (57%) think banks are currently too political, while 2019 Labour voters are more likely to say they’re getting the balance right (35%) than to think they’re too political (28%) - although a third (32%) are unsure either way.
Britons don’t support de-banking customers on political grounds – unless they’re members of extremist groups
We also asked the public about the specific circumstances where a bank or building society should be permitted to close an account.
Broadly, people think banks should be allowed to do so if the customer is a member of an extremist group (63%), has been convicted of serious crimes (63%), or is suspected of criminal behaviour or having criminal ties (53%). In each case, Conservative and Labour voters are more or less agreed.
Beyond fanatics and lawbreakers, three in five (62%) support stripping accounts from people who are rude or abusive to staff.
So what do Britons consider a poor reason for de-banking someone? Just 5% of the public think institutions should be allowed to remove accounts from people who support a particular political party, while the same proportion say they should be allowed to do so because someone voted to leave the EU.
Tory and Labour voters are mostly agreed on both counts. While 9% of the public think de-banking a customer who does not share the bank’s values should be permitted, it’s a tendency, 2019 Labour voters (13%) are twice as likely to hold this belief as Conservative voters (6%).
Most of the public think banks should not be allowed to shut an account because the holder openly opposes LGBTQ+ rights (13% allowed) - but just 5% of Conservative voters agree, compared to a quarter of Labour voters (23%). And when Britons are asked if refusing to use someone’s preferred gender pronouns is a good enough reason to close a customer’s accounts, it’s a similar story: 12% of the public think it is, next to 7% of Tory voters and a fifth of Labour voters (19%).