The news that Nigel Farage was debanked by Coutts a few weeks ago has gripped the public imagination. The boss of Coutts has fallen on his sword, but, amazingly, the big story is that Alison Rose, CEO of NatWest, Coutts’ parent company, has too, and MPs have piled in alongside Farage calling for the entire NatWest board to resign.
Common sense says this is overboard, but with 95% of Daily Express readers and approximately half of Times readers agreeing, when polled, that Rose deserved to go, it is important to take a step back and consider, “why?”.
And the answer, for anyone responsible for the public reputation of a business, is quite alarming. The fact that multiple heads are rolling belies a fractious political and public arena which is extremely perilous for business leadership.
Everyone enjoys a bit of schadenfreude, and sympathy for Rose, who earned 100x the average salary for increasing mortgage rates while simultaneously suppressing savers’ returns, is lacking.
But there is more to this. Social inequality is rising, so it is unsurprising that the public really have leaned in and leered. Politicians, desperate for pre-election popularity, have too. And amid all this the power of the media to whip up a frenzy and force serious resignations grows. This is the environment in which we are operating.
Yes, every CEO should know gossiping with a journalist is a misstep, yet one of the most powerful people in business is gone at the hands of a former politician from a marginal political party, and almost without a reasonable word said in her defense. Business leaders, beware.
Are there lessons to be learned from the NatWest fallout? With the benefit of hindsight, we should remember what we already knew about the risks inherent in speaking to journalists and doing what we can to ensure business leaders are always on their guard, whatever the setting. This is basic, but fundamental, and with seemingly everybody in society looking for scalps, now is the worst time possible to forget it.
Henry has more than ten years working in communications and is the chief media trainer for key accounts across Vested’s EMEA business. To learn more about our media training programmes, click here.