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Coutts poaches UBS executive after Farage ‘debanking’ scandal

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NatWest has poached UBS executive Emma Crystal to become chief executive of private bank Coutts, following the exit of Peter Flavel after the Nigel Farage “debanking” scandal.

The state-backed bank said on Thursday that Crystal would join from UBS to lead its wealth division in the summer, subject to regulatory approval. She will join Coutts’s board as chief executive in the process.

Crystal, who started her career at Deutsche Bank, previously led Credit Suisse’s northern and western European wealth management unit. She has spent the past year heading a sustainable finance division at UBS following its rescue of rival Swiss bank Credit Suisse.

Crystal said in a statement that she was “delighted” about the appointment, adding that Coutts had “one of the strongest private banking brands in the market”. NatWest interim chief executive Paul Thwaite said her wealth management experience would help the bank “deliver an outstanding client experience and achieve our growth ambitions”.

The appointment, first reported by Sky News, comes after Flavel, Coutts’s former chief executive, stepped down from the centuries-old private bank in July last year, saying that he bore the “ultimate” responsibility for its treatment of Farage.

The private bank was engulfed in a free-speech crisis in July when the former leader of both the UK Independence and Brexit parties claimed he had been ousted from the elite lender for his political views.

Farage subsequently obtained a 40-page dossier of internal documents that showed the wealth manager had jettisoned him in part because his politics were “at odds with our position as an inclusive organisation”, and accused him of “pandering to racists”.

An independent review by law firm Travers Smith in December found that the private bank’s decision-making around account closures was in line with industry standards and did not show “evidence of discrimination due to political views”.

However, the probe concluded Coutts had “deficiencies” in its communication processes surrounding the closure of accounts, which potentially breached the financial watchdog’s obligation to treat customers fairly.

The “debanking” affair also led Dame Alison Rose to quit as NatWest group chief executive after admitting that she had inaccurately briefed a BBC journalist about the closure of Farage’s account.

Thwaite, who previously led the group’s commercial bank, is set to lead the banking group until at least July. But NatWest’s incoming chair, Richard Haythornthwaite, who joined the bank’s board last month, has started the search for Rose’s permanent successor.

Thwaite is seen as a leading contender for the job and could be made permanent chief executive before the end of his initial one-year appointment.

The UK government, which owns a 36 per cent stake in the lender, said last month that it planned to sell some of its stake to retail investors as early as June, but conceded that greater clarity about its permanent leadership was a prerequisite.

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