Nigel Farage made international news when he went public on Coutts Bank’s decision to close his decades-old accounts, allegedly for “commercial” reasons. Farage secured an internal document from Coutts through a subject access request he made to the bank (published in full by the Daily Mail newspaper), showing that the bank saw Farage’s political history, including his views on immigration and identity politics, as out of line with its “purposes and values.”
The CEO of NatWest (of which Coutts Bank is a subsidiary) Dame Alison Rose, apologized for the way Farage had been treated, and several public figures, including British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, weighed in publicly, expressing concerns that the withholding of banking services for political reasons could undermine basic political values such as freedom of expression.
They were absolutely right to intervene. Farage just happens to have enough money and influence to be able to legally compel a bank to disclose its reasons for closing his accounts, and then to bring this to international attention. He just happens to be in a position to embarrass the CEO of NatWest into issuing a public apology. But he is by no means the only citizen to have been punished by a bank for his political opinions.
In recent times, we have seen a rash of political discrimination in banking services. For instance, in Canada, we saw banks instructed by the Trudeau administration to freeze the accounts of protesters against vax mandates. In the United States, we saw Paypal introduce a policy authorising it to close the accounts of customers it found guilty of “misinformation.”
Among the victims of their new policy was Toby Young, founder of the Free Speech Union, who saw three of his Paypal accounts abruptly suspended in 2022. A church minister recently reported on GB News that his bank account had been suspended for objecting to the transgender ideology being propagated by his bank.
Some providers of commercial services like credit cards and loans seem to think it is their job to make sure their customers have the “right” opinions on transgender ideology, immigration, the politics of vax mandates, and God knows what else.
Their role as mere providers of commercial services does not appear to be sufficient for them: they feel the need to withhold their services from individuals who espouse political or scientific opinions they happen to disapprove of. Perhaps they think they need to purge society of such opinions, or perhaps they think people with such opinions are simply not worthy of their services.
Banks are in a uniquely privileged position, as we trust them with large amounts of our private money, and the banking system as a whole has benefited from generous taxpayer-funded bailouts. Furthermore, access to banking services is indispensable in order to participate in a modern economy, get out a mortgage, or hold a credit card. Banks provide an essential infrastructure for citizens’ economic dealings, not just an optional service.
For these reasons, the terms on which banks offer their service are, in an important sense, everyone’s business. If banks offer their financial services based on an intensely partisan or political basis, then we put in jeopardy the future of free and open societies, by creating a two-tier society of those with and without bank accounts.
The first tier would be the well-connected and politically correct, who can access banking services on an equal footing with their peers; the second tier would be the not so well connected and the politically incorrect, who may never be able to get a mortgage or a credit card. The idea of an equal opportunity economy, or what is left of it, would effectively be replaced by a social credit economy, in which your social media profile would be just as important as your credit-worthiness.
Imagine a society in which outspoken conservatives, or Brexiteers, or libertarians, or socialists, were systematically locked out of banking services: those dissenting openly from the political views of the banking establishment would be condemned to live as economic pariahs: no mortgage, no credit card, and no way to conduct a normal business. Citizens would effectively forfeit their right to buy and sell, or participate in a market economy in a normal way, just because they expressed opinions disapproved of by the banking establishment.
Banks would then become instruments of political persecution and totalitarian groupthink instead of institutions devoted to the provision of banking services to the citizenry at large. The price of political dissent would become far too high for many citizens. The public square would quickly degenerate into an echo-chamber of opinions approved by the banking establishment.
Since bankers are not infallible gods, the opinions they approve may be right, wrong, or plain crazy. Either way, under a highly politicised banking system, such opinions would face little opposition. After all, most citizens, if forced to choose between expressing dissenting opinions, and surviving economically, would choose economic survival. Consequently, the public sphere would be purged of vibrant and robust debate about issues of public import.
Many who cannot bear losing their political voice would probably emigrate to a country where banks still provide their services to citizens without regard to their political opinions, leaving behind them a citizenry that is like putty in the hands of its banking masters.