In the end, the only real surprise was that it took so long. The chief executive of NatWest, Dame Alison Rose, had already been forced to step down after it became clear she had leaked confidential information about Nigel Farage’s personal financial affairs to the BBC. The board has been under sustained pressure all week. And now the man at the very heart of the scandal, Peter Flavel, the CEO of Coutts, has stepped down as well.
That was surely the right decision. A private bank only exists to be discreet and to provide exceptional service. It was clear that under Falvel, Coutts had long since stopped doing that. If the bank is to have any future there is a lot of repair work to be done – and Flavel was hardly the man to lead that.
After Rose’s hasty middle-of-the-night departure, it was clear that more heads would roll at NatWest. It was of course completely unacceptable for the head of a major bank to brief journalists about the private affairs of a client. And yet that was only one element of the story. It was just as unacceptable for the bank to be compiling dossiers on the political views of its clients, especially when the dossier in question was a muddled, poorly written jumble of half-truths scraped together from Google and Twitter. After all, Coutts is meant to be an elite private bank, catering to a handful of entrepreneurs and the mega-rich and providing high levels of service. It is the financial equivalent of staying in a five star hotel. Everything it meant to be taken care of, with maximum discretion, high levels of professionalism and, if you are lucky, even a modicum of charm.