‘I visited Farage’s bank and staff seem baffled that his account was closed’
Bank staff quizzed over BBC knowledge of Farage account closure
Famous for being the place Queen Elizabeth kept her money, private bank Coutts has a history stretching back to the 1600s. As you’d imagine for an institution serving the super-wealthy for centuries, discretion about who slips behind its glass-fronted headquarters on Strand in central London and what they get up to inside is part of the reason people sign up for accounts.
However, Coutts this week found itself at the centre of an alleged privacy breach involving politician and former customer Nigel Farage.
It all began when the Brexit campaigner and former UKIP leader revealed his long-term bank account had been closed on social media.
In the clamour to learn more about Mr Farage’s claims, the BBC said it had spoken to “people familiar with Coutts’ move” and could reveal it was a “commercial decision” based on a rule insisting customers must borrow or invest at least £1million.
“The criteria for holding a Coutts account are clear from the bank’s website,” the source added to the broadcaster.
READ MORE Nigel shares messages to expose ‘dishonest’ Coutts and BBC claims
Mr Farage hit back at the explanation, which was also reported by the FT, saying he hadn’t been at the minimum threshold mark for years.
One of the BBC reporters who broke the story later clarified this was also the case for many Coutts customers who had contacted him saying they were below the criteria but had not been threatened with account closure.
“Clearly a lot of discretion available to the bank,” he added.
We headed down to Coutts’ headquarters in one of London’s most exclusive postcodes in an effort to answer the question Mr Farage himself asked on Twitter: “What made the bank think that giving out my personal financial details to the FT and BBC was ethical or legal?”
Unfortunately, most employees at the world’s eighth-oldest bank were unwilling or unable to provide an explanation.
We asked scores of bank employees whether it was normal for the reason behind an account closure to be provided to the press or indeed if an individual’s details would be discussed with anyone other than the owner.
In response, employees shrugged, pulled faces, ignored us and said “No comment.”
The one employee who did stop to answer our questions appeared confused as to why journalists would be given such information.
We asked him whether it was normal or right for the BBC to be told why an account would to which he replied: “it doesn’t sound so.” The staff member added they weren’t aware of it happening with anyone else.
Amongst the customers we spoke to one confirmed they didn’t meet the £1million threshold and hadn’t done for years. Another said she believed such details should be provided to the press while her husband “didn’t give a damn.”
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After an hour of trying to get an answer from employees leaving the building, we headed inside.
Before we could climb aboard the escalator leading to what we can only imagine is a grand main lobby we were met by reception staff who politely told us the press team had been informed.
It was even suggested someone may come downstairs to answer our questions.
Willing to hear them out we gave them an hour-and-a-half to provide a spokesman. But when the deadline was hit, no one emerged.
Instead, we were directed to a phone number for a press officer.
Dialing them up from the pavement outside we were told “No, it would not be possible” to speak to a representative.
They did give us their email address for us to send our questions, but the answer matched the line from staff outside.
“It is a no comment from us on this,” the spokesman wrote. “For info, we don’t comment on individual customers or their accounts with us.”
This brings us back to the question we headed to central London with: Why would the BBC know the reasons for a Coutts customer’s account closing?
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