One of the biggest banks in the U.K. has announced that it will not accept cryptocurrency-focused business clients.
NatWest, which remains part-owned by the government following a bailout at the height of the 2008 financial crisis, considers such clients to be “high risk.”
According to The Guardian newspaper, the remarks were made by Morten Friis, the head of the board’s risk committee, during an online investors’ call on Wednesday.
It is not clear whether the bank is targeting any company accepting Bitcoin as payment — something Tesla announced it would do in February — or only companies whose main business is crypto.
While the newspaper said the announcement applied to any company that accepts crypto as payment, Friis’ comments suggest the ban may be more targeted:
“We have no appetite for dealing with customers, whether taking them on as new clients or having an ongoing relationship with people, whose main business is backed by an exchange for cryptocurrencies, or otherwise transacting in cryptocurrencies as their main activity. We think of cryptocurrencies as high risk and we’re taking, for that reason, a cautious approach to this.”
Individual account holders who buy and sell Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies will face extra financial crime scrutiny, Friis said.
A Hostile Approach
Friis cited the evolving and uncertain state of regulation in the cryptocurrency market as a reason for the decision.
In January, the U.K.’s banking regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority, banned trading in crypto derivatives such as futures contracts, citing a “high risk of suffering losses.” In February, it ordered all cryptocurrency exchanges and custodians to file annual financial crime reports.
Friis did not rule out dealing with crypto companies in the future, saying the bank will “continue to take a cautious approach, but we’ll watch how the market evolves.”