Brexit: the word that cannot be spoken at Bank of America
BofA urges staff not to use word or to provide opinions about issue in run-up to June vote
BofA’s stance is in stark contrast to that of many of its US rivals
Bank of America is warning senior staff not to use the word “Brexit” when talking to clients as it tries to steer clear of the raging debate over the UK’s EU membership.
The US bank last week told managers “not to provide opinions, not to influence voters, not to assume a particular result and not to engage in campaigning” in the run-up to the June 23rd vote on whether the UK should leave the EU.
It has also changed its mind about getting involved financially. In February, BofA made plans to donate close to £100,000 to the campaign for Britain to stay in the EU but it has now reversed that decision, three people close to the situation said.
One person said the bank’s advice was “not an attempt to muzzle or control staff” but rather an effort to avoid the limelight and respect UK electoral law. BofA declined to comment.
Like many of its US peers, BofA has based its European operations in London but may have to rethink if UK financial institutions are no longer automatically eligible to establish offices or trade in the other 27 member countries.
Another person familiar with the guidance said the bank was concerned that the term Brexit implied a bias against the UK voting to leave the EU.
BofA’s stance is in stark contrast to that of many of its US rivals. Goldman Sachs has donated £500,000 to the Stronger In Europe campaign, while JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley were also planning to contribute, the Financial Times reported this year.
Up to now, US banks have been more outspoken about the issue than their European rivals, in part because they feel they have the most to lose.
UK banks have been fearful of alienating customers on either side, while eurozone-headquartered institutions can more easily relocate business from London to their home countries in the event of a vote to leave.
Some senior BofA executives have been outspoken in their support of continued EU membership. Alex Wilmot-Sitwell, the group’s European chief, told the FT in February that London’s standing as a financial centre would gradually disintegrate in the event of a Brexit. A team of BofA analysts also warned about the potential fallout of a withdrawal in an October note on the topic that used the word “Brexit” 25 times.