Alison Rose doesn’t deserve a huge NatWest payout

When I wrote in July that Dame Alison Rose’s forced exit as chief executive of NatWest in the wake of the Nigel Farage scandal was ‘unnecessary’, many readers vehemently disagreed with me. Out she went, Treasury ministers having steamrollered the NatWest board’s brief attempt to hold her in post – and a subsequent Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) report concluded she had breached data protection laws by revealing to the BBC that Farage had been a customer of the Coutts arm of NatWest and adding the misleading suggestion that his accounts had been closed for purely commercial reasons. Bang to rights, then. Rose should forfeit the £10 million to which she’s

The liberal case for Nigel Farage

After ‘it’s not happening’, ‘it may be happening, but for different reasons’, and ‘would it be such a bad thing if it was happening?’, we have finally arrived at the ‘it’s happening and it’s a good thing’ stage of the Nigel Farage banking story. This now-familiar pattern of motivated reasoning was first identified by conservative writer Rod Dreher in his law of merited impossibility, which described how progressives could simultaneously hold the views that gay marriage wouldn’t diminish religious liberty and that the religious liberty of opponents of gay marriage ought to be diminished. As Dreher put it: ‘It will never happen, and when it does, you bigots will deserve it.’ Freedom

Portrait of the week: By-elections, dangerous dolphins and Djokovic’s £6,000 smashed racquet

Home Ben Wallace said he would cease to be the Defence Secretary at the next cabinet reshuffle and would not stand again for parliament. The Conservatives endured three by-elections – at Uxbridge and South Ruislip, Selby and Ainsty and Somerton and Frome. The left-wing mayor of North of Tyne, Jamie Driscoll, resigned from the Labour party after a rival was selected to stand for the newly created mayoralty of the North East. Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, said he would not reverse the Conservative limit on claiming child tax credit or universal credit for more than two children. On universities, Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, said: ‘Our young people

Would a German takeover of BT be so bad?

To the Mansion House, on an unbearably humid evening, for the Lord Mayor’s annual ‘Financial and Professional Services’ dinner. It’s a big night for the City, with the formal unveiling of reforms designed to channel pension money into unlisted equities, creating by 2030 a £50 billion pool of capital for high-growth UK companies that might otherwise list in New York or sell themselves elsewhere. Simplified London listing rules, favourable to founder-entrepreneurs, will be another part of a wider reform package, much of which has been foreshadowed in this column over recent months. But what a way to put out a major policy announcement. ‘No wonder the tech kids don’t want

How do you solve a problem like debanking?

As I sat down to write this column, an old friend let me know he’d just been ‘debanked’. That is, he’d received a letter from his high-street bank notifying him it was closing his accounts. ‘Following a review, we’ve made the decision that you will not be able to bank with us any longer,’ it said, not even bothering to put the word ‘difficult’ before ‘decision’. It contained no detail about this ‘review’ or why, on completing it, the bank had decided to close his accounts. The only thing he can think of is that he used to be a high-ranking member of the Brexit party. He was told he

Is it possible to live without a bank account?

Of no account  Nigel Farage claimed that his bank has told him it will be closing his accounts, without giving him a reason, although he suspects it is because of his political views. Is it possible to live without a bank account? – According to the Financial Conduct Authority, there are 1.3 million adults in Britain who are ‘unbanked’. – A third of them do not want to have a bank account, sometimes because they have got into trouble with debt in the past. – There are 7.45 million ‘basic’ bank accounts designed to offer essential functionality for handling payments, without offering credit and other services. Around the houses How

How my brother-in-law Boris got me cancelled

Nigel Farage and I don’t have too much in common beyond liking a pint and a cigar. Yet I now discover a link: we are both PEPs, or ‘politically exposed persons’. Such a handle may not be a total surprise to Nigel. (He may not have been surprised, either, when Coutts said that it had closed his bank account simply because he didn’t have enough funds.) But it certainly was to me – especially as I found out from an official at the bureau de change in the baggage hall of Mexico City airport. As I proffered a couple of grubby $100 bills to change to pesos, I filled in

Daily life at the 18th-century Bank of England

The England cricket team was once greeted at an Ashes test by an Australian banner with the immortal words ‘WOTHAM IS A BANKER’, the simple genius of the line being that you knew Wotham was being insulted before you had worked out quite who Wotham was, or what exactly he was being accused of. But, as Anne Murphy reminds us, the word ‘banker’ was not always just a word of abuse; it could also denote personal probity, sobriety, a certain nitpicking stolidity of thought, above all a preoccupation with credit and public confidence. It was not automatically oxymoronic to think of ‘virtuous bankers’. Amid all the financial crises of the

Regulators should not roll over for Revolut

Since we launched our Economic Innovator (originally ‘Disruptor’) awards in 2018, I’ve had enjoyable contacts with well over 100 entrepreneur-led high-growth companies picked as finalists from across the UK. Most I met at convivial pitching lunches; the rest told me their stories by Zoom or phone. Only one chosen finalist has ever shunned both the lunch and the opportunity for a call: it was Revolut, the London fintech venture that’s currently hustling for a UK banking licence. Revolut’s 38-year-old Russian-born founder Nikolay Storonsky has built a serious disruptor, valued in 2021 at $33 billion. Though Schroders – as a Revolut shareholder – has marked that figure down to $18 billion,

Violence and beauty combine in Siena

Siena, the jewel of Tuscan cities, was the mercantile and banking centre of medieval Europe. Bankers in Pre-Renaissance Siena preened themselves on their wealth and material possession. Banking (from the Italian banco, ‘counter’) is an Italian invention. Yet Dante consigned money-lenders to the seventh circle of Hell, where they are made to stare for eternity at their sacks of lucre. (Emblazoned with fancy coats of arms, the sacks would have held the equivalent of today’s venture capitalist bonus payments.) Usury was a dangerous professional game in Siena, one which invited church censure as well as personal spiritual dereliction. But without its money-making eminenti, Siena would have remained a provincial backwater,

Is Credit Suisse the tornado on the banking horizon?

Headlines about ‘alarm over CreditSuisse’ might be read as a sign of normality in financial news, rather than the reverse. The second-ranked Swiss bank (behind UBS) has slipped on so many banana skins in recent years that, as I wrote in February: ‘I sometimes wonder how and why it survives.’ As a recognised basket-case, its difficulties are not usually seen as harbingers of systemic trouble. But in the Kwarteng-induced febrile mood of London’s markets, the question has to be asked. This is October, the devil’s favourite month for provoking crashes. Could Credit Suisse be the tornado on banking’s horizon? Amid rumours of critical balance-sheet weakness, Credit Suisse’s shares have fallen

Why do bankers love techno?

Bankers and other assorted finance bros are an inescapable presence on the London nightlife scene. Industry, the British-made TV drama that follows a group of graduates on (and off) a City trading floor, begins its second series on BBC1 tonight and spares no detail of the drug-fuelled hedonism of its young bankers. One plot arc in the first series starts when the protagonist, exhausted after a long night on the powder, executes a trade in the wrong currency. Some in the field have protested that the on-screen excess is unrealistic. But much of it is apparently inspired by real-world experience. Mickey Down, one of Industry’s creators, spent just over a

The death of customer service

The ladies in the bank now wear badges telling you to Be Kind and not do anything that might upset them in any way. Be Kind is in big capital letters on this badge and beneath is a lot of small print explaining the well-known global problem of upset bank employees, which has reached such proportions that extreme measures are having to be taken to tackle customers from whom kindness does not flow in generous enough proportions as to prevent upset being incurred by agents of the high street banks in the course of them courageously risking all in order to speak to the likes of you and me about

‘Good’s never going to triumph’: the makers of BBC show Industry on bad bankers

Finance in screen fiction is a realm of monsters. From Gordon Gekko in Wall Street and Patrick Bateman in American Psycho to the crazed party animals of The Wolf of Wall Street, the arena of deal-making is portrayed – particularly in America – as winner-take-all without trace of empathy or redemption. Industry – the British-made television drama that follows a group of young bankers competing on a City trading floor whose second series airs on BBC1 later this month – is a more subtle example of the genre. Its characters are not monstrous but they are all flawed, ruthlessly transactional in their dealings with each other, and frankly hard to

Is our card-only culture fuelling inflation?

Is anything anywhere getting noticeably better – economically speaking – or at least less bad? Are commodities and manufactured goods beginning to move more freely, for example, to ease the demand pressures that are stoking inflation? It’s good news that the number of container ships anchored off Los Angeles-Long Beach waiting to unload has fallen from more than 100 in January to around 20 at the latest count, but I note also that dockers there are demanding a 10 per cent pay rise. Drewry’s World Container Index – the handiest indicator of global shipping costs – has fallen 32 per cent from its peak last autumn, but remains five times

Who’s to blame for the air travel crisis?

I sincerely hope you’re not reading this on a holiday flight that’s sitting on the tarmac with no indication as to when it might take off – or a sad train home after your flight was suddenly cancelled. Brace for three-hour delays at security, we’re told; don’t even try checking bags in, and at worst, as happened to Tui passengers at Manchester who thought they were going to Kos, watch out for a text after you’ve boarded telling you you’re going nowhere at all. How and why? When the pandemic set in, airlines and airports – thinking, not unreasonably, that their industry was doomed – made mass redundancies rather than

Fraud victim? Don’t bank on getting your money back

Lloyds Bank has been running a new advertising campaign which updates its long-standing black horse corporate branding. The horses no longer thunder along a beach, but interact with people who we assume are actual or potential customers. The soothing payoff slogan goes: ‘Lloyds Bank. By your side.’ The latest episode features a girl who slightly puts me in mind of our 17-year-old daughter. She happens to bank with Lloyds, but there the happy parallel ends. On a Saturday afternoon in March, a person unknown withdrew £440 from our daughter’s account via an ATM. At that precise time, our daughter was playing her clarinet during an audition for a London orchestra.

Like it or not, cryptocurrency is here to stay

There was a time when you could read a book to keep up to date about a subject. Well, that’s over. If a week is a long time in politics, in crypto it’s like a geological period. By the time a book on crypto hits the shelves it needs to be in the ancient history section. The Cryptopians is an attempt to sum up ‘the first big cryptocurrency craze’ by Laura Shin, a financial journalist who writes for Forbes and who has a successful crypto podcast. Its scope is the first decade of crypto, from the creation of Bitcoin to the current frenzy of DeFi (Decentralised Finance) and NFTs. But

How men’s pants predict economic crashes

Should you happen to spot me these days lurking outside a Calvin Klein boutique, notebook in hand, I assure you I have a serious purpose. I’m applying the method of the former US Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, who relished statistical minutiae and believed that sales of men’s underpants – an item so out of sight that a chap could readily choose not to replace worn-out ones when he senses an economic pinch ahead – offer a reliable indicator of impending downturns. That’s precisely the sort of trend we need to watch right now, when the Office for Budget Responsibility tells us to expect UK growth at 3.8 per cent

At least BP and Shell tried to teach Russia true capitalism

BP will offload the 20 per cent stake in Rosneft, the Kremlin-controlled energy giant, that is the residue of 25 years’ effort to teach true capitalism in Russia. Shell is ditching a deal with Gazprom, the other state oil and gas major, that includes participation in the stalled Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Europe and an LNG project at Sakhalin in the Russian far east. Western companies in many other sectors will abandon their footholds in Putin’s empire in the coming days. Russia’s one-generation dalliance with the western way of business – as opposed to lawless homegrown kleptocracy – is over. But just because Rosneft pays handsome dividends, let’s