Imagine carefully building a global brand over three centuries that is essentially based on discretion and then it is all undone in a matter of moments after the very modern “cancel culture” card is waived.
The irony of course being that this stellar reputation has just been annihilated by none other than its own Reputation Committee.
That’s what has happened to Coutts after a certain N Farage was put onto a “glide path” from his Coutts accounts to a generic NatWest account because he no longer met the criteria to qualify for Coutts’s exclusive services.
In an internal document it transpired that the bank views Nigel as a “disingenuous grifter” who promoted “xenophobic, chauvinistic and racist views”.
Now, that may well be the opinion of the bank and perhaps many readers of this column. It may well be the absolute opposite.
The problem is, the banking brand that is built on discretion has been found wanting for that exact corporate value and it probably couldn’t have happened with a worse client in mind given Nigel’s skill in riding the media waves when the tide turns his way.
Never one to let personal embarrassment get in the way of an opportunity, Farage has skillfully turned the topic into a wider debate about “cancel culture” recognising that this will strike chords with folk who follow him or perhaps had forgotten about him post-Brexit.
“If they can cancel me, they can cancel you,” Nigel warned.
Dame Alison Rose (the head of parent company Natwest) issued a public statement on Thursday and even wrote a letter to Farage apologising for the way Coutts had handled its decision to cut ties with the Brexit campaigner.
This came after a series of interventions by the prime minister and senior members of his cabinet, and more than two weeks after Farage went public about Coutts no longer wanting him as a client.
Rose said the comments, prepared for Coutts’ wealth reputation risk committee, “do not reflect the view of the bank”, adding:
“No individual should have to read such comments and I apologise to Mr Farage for this.”
However, she stopped short of reinstating Farage as a Coutts client, instead reiterating an offer to
open a basic account for him at NatWest.
Farage then accused Rose of being forced into an apology; “…so thank you Dame Alison for apologising. What I’ve actually been told quietly, privately, is that you were forced into doing this by the Treasury.
“But at least you’ve done it, I suppose. But the whole letter smacks of ‘not me, guv, I mean I’m just the chief executive, I mean, don’t blame me for what the banks under my direct control are doing’.”
Here’s the clever bit from Nigel.
He turns the debate away from himself and shines the spotlight back onto the average person, suggesting there were thousands in the same position as him, as he vowed to battle on. “I’m afraid I can’t just walk away from this. I’ve started this, and I’ve got to continue. So thank you for the apology. It’s a start, but it’s no more than that.”
Rose had said it was not the bank’s policy “to exit a customer on the basis of legally held political and personal views”. However, the problem here is twofold.
Coutts is being dragged into an unseemly public debate which is all very much “poor form” and not what one would expect of a brand that has banked every royal family since way back.
It is also in danger of “virtue signalling” as it tries to attract a younger clientele that is distinctly not Nigel but yet was happy enough to bank former Chilean dictator Pinochet and many more less than savoury characters.
Now, some might argue that Coutts is making a good start and that they should take a stand. Maybe it will attract a new generation of clientele to Coutts who will be delighted by this booting out of Nigel.
“No such thing as bad publicity” etc etc etc.
If one banks with Coutts, darling, one expects a tad more decorum and discretion. Whoever one is.