Home Business A Prominent Bank C.E.O. Exits Amid a Political Storm in Britain

A Prominent Bank C.E.O. Exits Amid a Political Storm in Britain

A Prominent Bank C.E.O. Exits Amid a Political Storm in Britain

Alison Rose, the chief executive of NatWest, one of Britain’s largest banks, resigned on Wednesday, just weeks after becoming embroiled in a dispute over the closure of the bank account of Nigel Farage, who is best known as a champion of Britain’s exit from the European Union.

The departure of Ms. Rose, the first woman to lead a major British bank, who had been charged with transforming an institution marred by scandal, was swift.

Less than a month ago, Mr. Farage, the former leader of the UK Independence Party, said his account at Coutts, the private bank owned by NatWest, had been closed because of his political views. A tumultuous saga followed, including an inaccurate BBC News story based on information from a source within the bank, the revelation of internal Coutts documents about the account that mostly substantiated Mr. Farage’s claim, and then multiple apologies to Mr. Farage — including by Ms. Rose, who admitted on Tuesday she had disclosed information about Mr. Farage’s account to the BBC.

The apology and a promise to review the bank’s policies were not enough to ease the pressure on Ms. Rose. Reports late Tuesday that the government, which has a 39 percent stake in the bank, was “significantly concerned” about Ms. Rose’s leadership seemed to seal her fate. Before dawn, the bank announced her immediate departure.

The board and Ms. Rose agreed “by mutual consent” that she would step down, Howard Davies, the bank’s chairman, said in a statement. NatWest shares fell about 4 percent on Wednesday.

“It is a sad moment,” Mr. Davies said. “She has dedicated all her working life so far to NatWest and will leave many colleagues who respect and admire her.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Farage said other members of the NatWest board should also resign because of their initial support for Ms. Rose. “They simply all have to go,” he said on GB News.

Ms. Rose, 53, joined the bank in 1992 as a trainee. She was appointed chief executive in 2019 with the goal of continuing the overhaul of the bank, which was then called Royal Bank of Scotland. It was majority-owned by the British government after a bailout during the financial crisis in 2008. She wanted to make it a “smaller and simpler bank.”

Ms. Rose ditched the Royal Bank of Scotland name, which had been around for nearly three centuries, in an effort to put behind it the crisis and a series of scandals, including selling toxic mortgage-backed securities and rigging an interest-rate benchmark.

Recently, she was seen as a leader in efforts to align the finance sector to climate goals. Ms. Rose promised to make the bank, which was once an important lender to the oil and gas sector, a “purpose-led” lender, with a focus on “helping to address the climate challenge.” NatWest sponsored the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow two years ago. Under her leadership, the bank was directing 100 billion pounds (about $130 billion) into financing for green and sustainable initiatives.

The bank’s “commitment to sustainability is very much driven from the top,” said James Alexander, chief executive of the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association. “But strongly permeates throughout the whole institution.”

And so, Mr. Alexander said, NatWest’s green agenda should survive this leadership change. “This isn’t just doing this to be nice,” he added. “It’s a key business opportunity.”

Ms. Rose cemented her influential position in British business just a week ago when she joined a new business council to increase investment and economic growth in Britain set up by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. The government repeatedly called on her to serve in public advisory roles. In March, as a cost-of-living crisis gripped Britain, Ms. Rose was named a co-chair of a government task force to improve Britain’s energy efficiency and reduce household bills. Before she was named chief executive, Ms. Rose led a review of female entrepreneurship for the government.

At the beginning of the year, Ms. Rose was made a dame in King Charles’s first New Year’s honors list, for her services to the financial sector.

After all those accolades, Ms. Rose’s career at NatWest ended amid a scandal that quickly morphed from being about the closure of a prominent public figure’s bank account to concerns that the banking industry was “de-banking” people for their political views.

Last week, Mr. Sunak said: “It’s not right for anyone to be denied financial services because they’re exercising their lawful right to free speech.” The next day, the Treasury announced new rules for the closure of accounts.

On Wednesday, Andrew Griffith, a government minister, met with the heads of six of Britain’s largest lenders “to discuss the importance of protecting lawful freedom of expression for customers,” the Treasury said in a readout from the meeting. It said the attendees had acknowledged that recent events eroded public trust in the banking sector.

“It is right that the NatWest C.E.O. has resigned,” Mr. Griffith said in a statement. “This would never have happened if NatWest had not taken it upon itself to withdraw a bank account due to someone’s lawful political views. That was and is always unacceptable.”

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