Having a bank account into which you can pay money, or from which you can pay money out, is essential in the modern world. You can become a non-person if a bank closes your account. You can be cut off without notice and effectively instantly impoverished by a bank even if you have been a customer of theirs for many years and have a perfect credit record.
This has been happening to many people lately and not just to Nigel Farage. If you are judged to be a “Politically exposed person” (PEP) then you might have great difficulty opening a bank account and will certainly have to answer many questions about your activities and sources of funds. Just being related to a PEP is enough it seems to raise eyebrows and start an inquisition. Simply being involved in politics or having the wrong opinion on controversial subjects is enough it now seems to cause difficulties and result in a Kafkaesque proceeding.
In addition banks are closing accounts without giving clear reasons and without notice, although they dispute this. These problems have arisen recently because banks have become paranoid in adhering to FCA rules about “knowing your customer”.
You may think this problem is not a common one. But it is. For example I am related to a Member of the House of Lords and she had this to say:
“Yes. Total nightmare with Nationwide, They just sent a rather ill spelt text about a year ago to say they were going to cut us off If we did not give them a huge amount of information in 24hrs. They wouldn’t say why, after to-ing and fro-ing for 6 weeks or so it was all sorted out and got profuse apology but meanwhile I removed all our cash immediately because of the threat to freeze the account. There’s been a great stink in the Lords because we’re all in the same position and finally the banks seem to have started to behave slightly better.
Nationwide had set up a new unit to pursue anybody with any likelihood of being a politically exposed person, It seems to be full of teenagers who couldn’t read or write so we thought it was spam. It wasn’t. Eventually sorted out but it was a year before I put any money in Nationwide again.
But it’s been dreadful for some people, totally unjustified”.
The other complaint about banks recently is that they raised mortgage rates in line with changes in interest rates but have not improved their savings rates on instant access accounts. The FCA have published a note on tackling this issue – see https://www.fca.org.uk/news/statements/fca-sets-out-expectation-fair-and-competitive-saving-rates.
It urges people to change banks to improve competition but will people do that if the process of opening an account is subject to tedious scrutiny and subsequent risk of closure?
The Treasury is apparently looking into this issue but bearing in mind this problem has been known about for many months, don’t expect any action soon.
Postscript: The latest news is that even Chancellor Jeremy Hunt was denied a Monzo account.
There surely needs to be some regulation of banks’ actions in this area.
Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson )
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