Has Coutts chief executive been blinded by trendy groupthink?

ANDREW LEVY: As Coutts cancels Nigel Farage, has the bank’s Australian chief executive been blinded by trendy groupthink?

  •  Chief executive Peter Flavel seems to be embracing issues such as inclusivity

Four years ago, Coutts chief executive Peter Flavel was quite relaxed about the UK’s exit from the EU, stating that a ‘Corbyn government is something that worries our clients at the moment, much more than Brexit’.

He added: ‘We advise them not to make decisions on political risk but economic reality.’

We now know that the bank’s ‘wealth reputational committee’ decided former UKIP leader Nigel Farage was a threat to its own economic reality.

The Australian-born banker, who has notched up work at Standard Chartered’s Private Bank and JP Morgan, was the first foreign boss of Coutts when he took the helm in 2016.

But last year, there were increasing signs that Mr Flavel, who turned 63 on Tuesday, was becoming increasingly enamoured with the trendy groupthink on issues such as inclusivity and climate change.

Coutts chief executive Peter Flavel appears to be embracing ‘trendy groupthink’ on issues such as climate change and inclusivity

Musing on companies’ need to think beyond the bottom line, he said: ‘Businesses need to have a purpose. And this isn’t the latest corporate buzzword or fad – it’s a fundamental reassessment of what business is all about.’

Last month, the bank wrapped its headquarters on the Strand with rainbow colours and the slogan ‘Championing the Power of Pride.’

Its website boasts of a Culture Plan that ‘celebrates diversity and inclusion among all Coutts employees’.

Last month, he reposted an online comment that stated: ‘What started as a riot ignited an unstoppable force for good.

‘We believe everything we do should play a part in benefitting the environment and people of all identities and backgrounds.’

He has also attended the Cop26 conference, burnishing his credentials as a corporate green warrior.

‘Each and every one of us has the power to create change,’ he says on the bank’s website.

Born to pub-owing parents, he studied law, economics and commerce at university near his childhood home in Adelaide and Melbourne – he has also attended the Advanced Management Programme at both Harvard Business School and the University of Oxford – before taking a job at National Australia Bank.

Mr Flavel with King Charles III at Buckingham Palace in November 2022

In 2006, he moved to Singapore to run Standard Chartered’s Private Bank, then switched to JP Morgan’s wealth management arm.

In an interview in 2019, he revealed he was an adherent to working from home before it became the norm – and a drain on the UK economy – saying he liked to do so once a month at his West London flat, which the father-of-three shared with wife Ally.

‘Sitting there on our little balcony overlooking the garden fills you with so many new ideas,’ he said.

Perhaps as he looks out over his garden in the coming days, he will have a lightbulb moment as to how to handle the fallout from the crisis caused by the treatment meted out to Mr Farage.

But he would appear to relish the challenge, having stated: ‘When I arrived [in the UK] there wasn’t enough debate about issues. People were quite polite and, even if they disagreed, they wouldn’t say anything. I want them to argue.’

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