You may have caught wind of news concerning individuals’ (typically high-profile celebrities) social media accounts being forcibly shut down for one reason or another. Whilst this event may seem relatively benign, what you may find far more disturbing is people’s bank accounts being closed for behaviour not related to their monetary movements.
What signifies bad behaviour is, of course, controversial remarks being made, typically over social media. But whilst closing down social media accounts may be justified on the grounds of these companies’ policies on inciting hate and violence, is financially isolating individuals really the just course of action?
Tide, one of the UK’s largest and most well-known online banks, has recently been reported to have closed the bank accounts of customers with little to no reason. TechRound has spoken to numerous people, all of whom have had bank accounts closed, both with Tide, and otherwise with no reason given.
Real-Life Examples: What Is Happening?
TechRound received multiple stories of non-famous people’s bank accounts being frozen or closed with no notice or specific justification, with many holding accounts with Tide.com.
None of the people who contacted TechRound with these stories were offered a clear explanation by Tide, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) or the UK’s Financial Ombudsman as to why their accounts were blocked, frozen or altogether closed. A common theme was to be told to refer to generic and non-specific “terms of service.”
“This was a nightmare, I was battling to keep the business alive during covid and one-day last year I got an email from a client telling me that the payment they made had bounced back.”
“Simultaneously Tide.com sent me a notification through the app that they have decided to close my business account. No notice provided, nothing. I remember seeing news about banks closing accounts to hundreds of thousands of Britons living abroad and I always thought that’s not my problem, but when it happens to you; then it is a troubling wake up call.”
“Finally after days of trying to make Tide understand this was a mistake and they must have confused my company or something along those lines I received a final confirmation that the closure has been reviewed and the account won’t be reopened and I had to find a different bank.”
“I was lucky I managed to get through this but this situation with Tide.com could have destroyed the business entirely. I never expected that a bank in the UK of all countries could act like this but there you go. I was lucky that other banks stepped up, but now I’m obliged to keep multiple accounts for each company in different banks just in case some bank decides that for whatever reason they don’t want you as a client.”
Peter Cadney, a software developer from London had a similar experience when his bank account was frozen for two months during November for receiving a payment of £16k from a client in Europe:
“I invoiced my client for two month’s work and as soon as the payment arrived my card stopped working and when I visited the branch I found that my account was under review and they kept my money frozen for 2 months despite my client being a well-known German company and me having received payments from this client for years without any problems.”
TechRound and the people involved in the above cases have contacted Tide, the FCA and the Financial Ombudsman for comment but we have yet to receive any specific answers (we are referred to terms of service).
The question we are all asking and still want to know the answer to is: what is going on with banks and financial institutions in the UK?
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The UK: Still a Financial Garden of Eden?
Long gone are the days in the UK where you could simply walk into a bank branch with your ID, proof of address and your company incorporation number and then walk out with your business bank account; sorted and operational to help you grow your next venture.
Opening a bank account for your business in 2023 can take up to 6 months with some banks giving you appointments 2 months after the application just to review your application and with no guarantees that you will actually get your business account opened.
For small (and larger) businesses across the UK, knowing you have an operational bank account is the difference between growing a business and thriving, and potentially falling into debt or business closure.
Curiously in recent years, increasing numbers of people have woken up from one day to the next, and found that their business (and sometimes personal) bank account has been closed with no warning or notice: funds frozen, direct debits and standing orders cancelled and revenue blocked, locking you out of any and all payments and received funds.
Celebrity’s Bank Accounts Frozen
A recent and high-profile example of this happening has been social media influencer and former kickboxing champion Andrew Tate. Agree or disagree with anything he says or has said, he too has fallen victim to bank accounts being frozen and closed overnight.
In an interview with Patrick Bet-David for Valuetainment, Tate stated that: “Every single one of them just goes, no, delete, delete, delete, delete, delete…UK-based banks as well, high street banks, but I can name Santander, HSBC, Barclays etc, send some letter to close accounts. They take all your banking to take your payment processing.”
Tate has since pressed back against the actions of Lloyds Bank, sending out a tweet in December 2022 directly to the bank asking them to ‘’Unfreeze the account” so that he might have access to the £3,200,000 which is locked in there.
Just to put his platform into perspective, in July 2022, Tate’s name was Googled more than Kim Kardashian and Donald Trump’s.
But while social media platforms may argue that celebrities should be hushed and even financially isolated if they persist in using their platform to spread damaging views throughout society, what of the non-famous individuals without such a platform? Could their views ever be as damaging? The punishment as severe?
Most social media platforms and banks have actually already answered this question – yes. This surely sets a precedent that the gatekeepers to one’s access to a voice and society are large tech companies.
Non-famous people across the globe have also seen their bank accounts closed if there is evidence of them endorsing what is perceived as controversial views and actions.
Is It Just Celebrities At Risk?
Whilst it may have been easy to catch wind of certain celebrities or known persons having their bank accounts closed, it may have skipped public notice that plenty of non-famous individuals have also had their accounts shut.
Unlike other things we are legally entitled to, there is no longer such thing as a ‘right’ to a bank account, with Tide or otherwise. So, in theory, anyone, with or without a platform or widespread social media presence, may have their bank account shut if the bank decides it so.
As reported by Adam Edwards on the financial website MoneyMagpie, any high street bank “can legally refuse or withhold its services to you if you do or say something it disagrees with. This can be anything from being rude to its staff to posting a meme it doesn’t like on Facebook.”
Edwards continues: “The practice of banks closing people’s accounts has become widespread in North America and made global headlines after Canadian banks closed the accounts of ordinary men and women who donated money to anti-lockdown protesters fighting vaccine mandates in the Canadian truckers’ convoy.”
London-based e-money institution Wise suspended the account of a member of CitizenGO, the pro-life Christian group, telling correspondents from MoneyMagpie this was completed under its “Acceptable Use Policy.”
PayPal also made a splash in the headlines in September 2022 after shutting down the accounts of the Free Speech Union – the British organisation which advocates for freedom of speech.
Political magazine Spiked reported that PayPal not only closed the accounts of the Free Speech Union but also of employees at the Daily Sceptic – a site which serves as a self-proclaimed hub of sceptic articles, academic papers and interviews that have been denied publication elsewhere.
But in an interesting turn of events, The Telegraph has since reported that PayPal has actually reinstated accounts of the Free Speech Union after being accused of a ‘politically motivated’ ban. In fact, the finance technology platform even went on to issue a statement declaring its support for freedom of expression.
Evidently, PayPal was worried about being accused of overstepping the mark when it comes to how far financial organisations should go in politically motivated matters.
Further investigation into the matter shows that they are not the only ones.
Banks: Who Is For And Against
Whilst several UK and other global banking platforms seem to be in favour of closing the accounts of controversial individuals, many have actually taken a stand against the practice.
As discussed, banks such as JPMorgan Chase, Lloyds Bank and PayPal have closed accounts of celebrities and non-famous persons after contentious remarks or being a member of certain questionable groups.
But although this practice has become a common theme among banks, it is not a suit followed by all.
Whilst PayPal has rectified its decision of closing the accounts of the Free Speech Union, there are a few other banks which have taken a more decisive stand against the involvement of financial institutions in matters of personal views.
Revolut, TallyMoney Ltd and the Lloyds Banking Group (includes Lloyds Bank, Halifax, Bank of Scotland and Scottish Widows) have all openly declared that personal views do not provide grounds for the closure of bank accounts.
A spokesperson from the Lloyds Group assured MoneyMagpie that none of their existing customers would see their accounts suspended unless they are convicted of “money laundering, instances where the account has been used for illegality, or if the customer has committed a crime directly against the Group”.
A spokesperson for Revolut echoed similar sentiments when questioned by MoneyMagpie, stating that the company will only “freeze or suspend the accounts of certain users under UK and international laws”.
Now of course, Andrew Tate did have his account closed with Lloyds Bank, so we can only assume that his actions were indeed deemed over the breach of their policy rights, or perhaps this is further proof that no account with any bank is truly safe from suspension.
But Tally’s founder and CEO Cameron Parry has gone one step further to ensure that Tally – the digital bank – is not in any way associated with the practice.
In a tweet posted in September 2022, Parry stated that “You can’t believe in freedom of speech and the right of peaceful assembly then block a person with a different point of view from their financial means to exercise those rights.”
Setting Parry’s remarks in contrast to the actions demonstrated by institutions such as PayPal and Chase show the divide in opinion even held amongst the banks over how much power they should hold in matters outside of the financial realm.
Where Do We Draw The Line?
So, where should society draw the line when it comes to punishment for controversial views and remarks?
Even banks seem split on the matter, with some believing that this indeed falls under their jurisdiction and others openly advertising their disagreement with the practice.
It is true that, unlike things like food, water, and healthcare, a bank account is no longer a globally acknowledged right.
Nevertheless, Spiked journalist Molly Kinglsey has called out banks closing accounts as something she calls the “Big Tech’s war on free speech”.
Whilst this comment suggests a perhaps unfairly violent string of events, Kingsley is right in identifying the closure of bank accounts as a small cog in the larger issue of how much power technology holds in current global society.
The UK and the USA – two of the main offenders of this practice – are both democratic societies. Both distribute the right of free speech to their citizens. Yet it seems that the right to offend and be offended in these nations has somewhat dwindled in recent years, and it is evident that technology has been used repeatedly as the enforcer of this diminishment.
Indeed, it can (and arguably should) be argued that something must be done to prevent the circulation and incitement of hate and violence, but surely banks are overstepping their mark in this regard.
Financially isolating a person is perhaps the most effective way of cutting them off from their freedom. Whilst banks should, of course, regulate our monetary movements, giving these institutions power over our legal rights can only contribute to an unnecessarily restrained society.
In a world where technology arguably already holds far too much power, by adding this issue to the pile, one can only wonder how far our personal rights and freedoms can be embroiled before more serious and undemocratic consequences are brought about.