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OnlyFans founder blames banks for porn ban

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OnlyFans’ founder Tim Stokely has blamed “unfair” treatment by banks for forcing him to ban pornography on the platform, a decision that caused an outcry from the site’s users and sowed doubt over its future.

“The change in policy, we had no choice — the short answer is banks,” Stokely, who is also the company’s chief executive, told the Financial Times.

Since it banned explicit content last week, the UK company has faced criticism for abandoning the adult performers who helped attract its roughly 130m users as well as scepticism as to whether it can prosper under new rules that ban sex acts, though permit nudity.

Stokely said the change came in response to an increased level of obstacles from banks, which would “cite reputational risk and refuse our business”.

“We pay over one million creators over $300m every month, and making sure that these funds get to creators involves using the banking sector,” he said, singling out Bank of New York Mellon as having “flagged and rejected” every wire connected to the company, “making it difficult to pay our creators”.

BNY Mellon’s role, in this case, was as an intermediary bank, helping with transfers between OnlyFans’ bank and the bank accounts of its creators.

Stokely also said UK-based Metro Bank had in 2019 closed OnlyFans’ corporate account with short notice, and highlighted how many sex workers, including OnlyFans creators, were struggling to access basic financial services.

“JPMorgan Chase is particularly aggressive in closing accounts of sex workers or . . . any business that supports sex workers,” he said.

BNY Mellon, Metro Bank and JPMorgan all declined to comment. OnlyFans declined to name its current banking partners, citing a desire to improve relations.

Opposition to the porn industry has taken on new life in recent years, with a string of high-profile media investigations into the prevalence of child pornography and other non-consensual footage on so-called tube sites.

OnlyFans has not been immune to scrutiny, despite operating a business model where both viewers and creators are verified and content stays behind a paywall.

Stokely claimed OnlyFans had been unfairly targeted by media reports into “incidents of illegal content” that failed to mention how porn-free social media platforms grapple with similar issues. “Banks read the same media as everyone else,” he said.

Some financial groups, such as Mastercard, have responded to growing wariness of the porn industry with more stringent rules for “specialty merchants” due to take effect on October 1, the same date as OnlyFans’ policy change comes into effect. This prompted speculation that Mastercard was driving the platform’s new policy, something that Stokely disputed.

“We’re already fully compliant with the new Mastercard rules, so that had no bearing on the decision,” he said.

OnlyFans’ move has prompted questions as to how it will manage to enforce the ban. Stokely said the company was hiring almost 200 new moderators to a team of nearly 1,000 staff members who are “involved in some part of our multi-step moderation process”.

The new rules have also delayed the company’s plan for a share sale, as majority owner Leonid Radvinsky, the Ukrainian-American entrepreneur behind porn site MyFreeCams, is looking to offload part of his stake.

Stokely rejected reports that wariness from investors had sparked the move.

“We didn’t make this policy change to make it easier to find investors,’‘ said Stokely, arguing his family and Radvinsky would not bring in owners that were not comfortable with adult performers. Stokely said he would “absolutely” welcome porn back were the banking environment to change.

“This decision was made to safeguard their funds and subscriptions from increasingly unfair actions by banks and media companies — we obviously do not want to lose our most loyal creators,” Stokely said.

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