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The UK’s top financial regulator has vowed to continue working on closing bank accounts as a fierce backlash erupted over its initial assessment that politicians were not being denied access to services because of their views.
He Financial Conduct Authority on Tuesday said that none of the 34 banks, payments firms and building societies it examined had closed a single account “mainly due to a customer’s political views” in the 12 months to June 2023. Instead, it found that Dormant accounts and concerns about financial crime were the main reasons for the closures.
Nigel FarageThe former UKIP leader whose claims he was “unbanked” for his political views led the government to order the FCA investigation, said the finding was “a complete and utter farce, it’s a total cover-up, it’s a joke”. .
City minister Andrew Griffith highlighted the regulator’s “initial report” but added that “there is clearly more to do to validate banks’ submissions and ensure the FCA has comprehensively tracked the prospects of unbanked customers.”
In its extensive report, the FCA repeatedly emphasized that the data had been collected “at great speed” and that there were significant gaps. exercise alone started in august after Farage ignited a national debate over free speech by claiming he had been kicked out of private bank Coutts because of his political views.
Farage published a dossier showing the bank had said continuing to serve him would not be “compatible with Coutts” as his views were “at odds with our position as an inclusive organisation”.
Coutts eventually offered to retain Farage as a client and he was still at the bank at the end of July.
“While no bank, building society or payments company informed us that they had closed accounts primarily because of someone’s political views, more work needs to be done to be safe,” Nikhil Rathi, chief executive of the FCA, said on Tuesday.
That work will begin by validating the data the FCA already has and tracking “outliers” who have a higher incidence of rejecting applications or closing certain types of accounts than their peers.
One area of particular concern is basic bank accounts, which are designed to ensure that everyone has a minimum level of access to financial services. The FCA found that up to 35.7 per cent of these accounts were rejected and is now asking firms why the figure is so high.
Writing Writing in the Financial Times, Rathi said the FCA also wanted to “understand more about what are described as ‘reputational’ factors behind a spate of closures.”
“There are banks that have long denied accounts to companies that conflict with their companies’ policies. But reputation criteria should not be taken too far,” he wrote.
The FCA did not give a time frame for completing its monitoring work nor did it commit to publishing its result.
“I think the ball is firmly back in the government’s court, Andrew Griffith and Jeremy Hunt, this is not good enough. . . “We need dismissals from the (FCA) board of directors,” Farage saidreferring to the City Minister and the Chancellor, in comments on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Government experts say ministers have been frustrated by the speed with which the FCA initially responded to the unseating controversy and want the regulator to produce more “detailed details” on the issue.
Griffith said: “Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right. “No ifs or buts – everyone should be able to express their legitimate opinions without fear of losing vital access to a bank account.”
He added: “We have already acted to force banks to explain and delay any decision to close an account to protect freedom of expression, meaning customers will have a 90-day notice period and a clear explanation for any account closure. account. “This will be backed by legislation this year.”
Sarah Pritchard, the FCA’s executive director of markets, told reporters the regulator had been “very clear that it is unlawful for a customer to lose access to their bank or building society account because of their legally expressed political opinions.” .