NatWest boss resignation is a sign that corporations are being roped into the culture wars, says Bayes expert

Professor André Spicer comments on the resignation of NatWest boss Dame Alison Rose

The NatWest boss, Dame Alison Rose, has resigned after a row over the closure of Nigel Farage’s bank account with the private bank Coutts, which is part of the NatWest group.

Following a tweet by Mr Farage in late June that said that “the establishment are trying to force me out of the UK by closing my bank accounts”, the story took a new turn in early July when the BBC published the claims from a senior source at the bank that he had been dropped as a Coutts client because he fell below their wealth limit. The former UKIP leader later obtained a Coutts report which contradicted this report, as it indicated that his political views were also considered.

It later emerged that this anonymous briefing to the BBC came from Dame Alison, and after the BBC’s apology over its inaccurate report about why his account at Coutts bank was closed, she admitted a “serious error of judgement” in discussing Nigel Farage’s relationship with the bank.

While the bank’s chair said that she retained their “full confidence” in a statement on Tuesday, Dame Alison’s resignation was announced in the early hours of Wednesday.

Speaking about the NatWest situation and Dame Alison’s resignation, Professor André Spicer, Dean of Bayes Business School and Professor of Organisational Behaviour, said:

“The resignation of Dame Alison Rose is a sign that corporations and their leaders are being roped into the culture wars. Many corporates have shown public support for causes like LGBTQ+, Net Zero and Black Lives Matter. Sometimes this has triggered critics to claim these commitments are just cheap talk and critics have accused them of 'woke-washing'. However, these commitments can sometimes help to inform business decisions (such as who to do business with). They can also make companies vulnerable to culture warriors who seek to make broader political points by attacking for-profit companies. 

“The ostensible reason behind Rose's resignation is that she claimed that the decision to close Nigel Farage's accounts was a purely business decision. Farage subsequently claimed it was driven by the unpalatable nature of his political views to the bank. A careful reading of the dossier which informed Coutts’ decision on Farage actually shows it was a complex decision involving the trade-off of reputation risk which comes from a high profile client with the commercial rewards a client can offer. The document also repeatedly warns that any attempts to close Farage's account would be met with loud public protests from Farage himself. What bought Rose down was not the decision itself – companies have to balance reputational risk and commercial reward all the time. The problem was three factors: perceived breaches of client confidentiality, not articulating the range of factors at play in the decision, and facing a tenacious culture warrior looking to make political capital out of this situation.  

“In the context of the rising tide of the culture wars, corporate leaders face an interesting choice. They can remain silent on controversial issues and hope to avoid critical voices. This tends to work for large mass-market companies that want to appeal to people from all walks of life. They can become woke-washers who claim to support issues but then don't follow through with the costly commitments which this requires. This pays off when people from one political persuasion dominate a market or the views are seen as not particularly controversial. Finally, corporate leaders can become political activists and take up a position in the culture wars – this approach is most likely to work when you can differentiate yourself by appealing to a sector of the market that is willing to pay a premium to have their political views reflected in the products and services they buy.”

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