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State-owned bank, RBS, asked potential customers if they were members of political parties

Posted by James Hammerton @ 1:59 pm on 15 March, 2009.
Categories privacy and surveillance, democracy and the rule of law, British politics.
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Fraser Nelson, writing in the Spectator:

FN: Could you repeat the exact question again?

RBS: Is she a member of any political party, basically? (note: he was referring to my mother-in-law)

FN: I must admit I’m not entirely happy with answering that question. I don’t see what relevance it has to…

RBS: [He says a supervisor will call me back, as one of the company directors lives abroad]

FN: But listen, I mean when you call back, we may be prepared to answer that political question. But can you explain again one more time why it’s relevant?

RBS: It is put upon us by the Financial Services Authority to try and omit any money laundering and things like that. It helps us crack down on fraudulent merchants by asking these types of questions.

FN: But I don’t understand why, say, if she is a member of the Conservative Party or Labour Party, that is related to fraud?

RBS These are questions thrust upon us by the Financial Services Authority, sir. It would be the same no matter where you apply for merchant services, the same question would be asked. It is legally binding. It’s to try and omit any fraudulent activity. I presume the reason why we ask that question is because there is a high volume of fraud in that sector. Where people who are of that sort of nature maybe are inclined to commit fraud. I’m not for a minute implying that she will do. But that’s just trying to protect us and you, as well, you see.

Later on he also writes:

UPDATE: Just to be clear, I agree with the Coffee Housers who say this is cock-up and not conspiracy. But the FSA say this Politically Exposed Person (PEP) is simply part of anti-fraud toolkit (it has been for years, apparently) so there is no requirement to ask it of every new client. RBS took it upon itself to pose this question, around the time of its state ownership. I’m sure the timing was also a coincidence. I accept it was a blunder, magnified by the attempts of its baffled call center staff to interpret the question. But whatever the explanation, whether it be accident or design, consider the end result: we have a state-owned bank asking clients if they are “politically exposed”. And that just won’t do.

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