Bank of America bans staff from saying ‘Brexit’

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 membership in the European Union.

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 a June 23 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 attempt 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 and may have to rethink its arrangements if UK financial institutions are no longer automatically eligible to establish offices, sell services or trade in the other 27 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 FT reported earlier 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 back 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 Financial Times in February that London's standing as a financial centre would gradually disintegrate in the event of a Brexit. "A significant amount of financial trade currently booked in London would leave if the UK left the EU," Mr Wilmot-Sitwell said. "It wouldn't happen overnight but, steadily, it would fragment throughout the EU."

A team of BofA research analysts also warned about the potential fallout of a withdrawal in an October note on the topic that used the word "Brexit" 25 times.

The report said: "Does it look good to consumers, workers, firms and markets if a country with (or without for that matter) a large current account deficit damages relationships with its overwhelmingly largest trading partner, reduces its potential influence in the world, and raises the likelihood of domestic political flux? Our judgment would be no."

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