FT International Financial Centres Global Series 2013
A gathering of international financial centres took place in London last week with representatives attending from across Europe, Asia and the Middle East. I spoke at the conference on the challenges facing European centres, which I summarised under four headings; political, regulatory, economic and competition. I am not going to develop those themes here as I have written on them extensively through this blog but instead reference some of the other speakers.21 September 2013
The positioning of centres was naturally built on where they saw their competitive advantage, Paris promoting effective regulation and the social market, London its global reach and leading position, Stockholm focusing on innovation, Bahrain onshoring regional wealth, and Hong Kong emphasising its free market principles backed by Chinese financial muscle.
But the two most interesting presentations of the day for me were those delivered by Sajid Javid MP, Economic Secretary to the Treasury and Frederic Lebel of the CFA.
I hadn’t seen Sajid Javid before in the flesh but I was impressed. He has worked in investment banking and actually knew his subject. What impressed me was the balance and rationality in his commentary. I identified with his commentary partly I think because like me, he comes from a humble background, has worked in finance, and believes in hard work and equal opportunity.
Javid is no apologist for the past excesses of the finance industry. He does though understand that finance is the UKs largest and most successful industry. He is focused on fixing what needs to be fixed, and promoting the UK’s world class financial services capabilities in banking, asset management, insurance and professional services.
I quote from his speech:_
"I’d like to begin by using five words that people wouldn’t expect of a politician.
Five words that people certainly wouldn’t have heard very often from politicians over the last five or six years.
I like the financial sector."
An appreciation that has been a rarity in the five years post Lehman.
But a grounded sense of realism too:-
"But it’s true that, as well as highlighting some very poor individual and commercial decisions…
The financial crisis also highlighted the shortcoming of our old regulatory system."
He concludes with a story:-
"In fact, I’d like to end with a story about someone from an Islamic country.
I don’t know if anyone here has read the book Londoners by Craig Taylor?
Those of you that have, will know it is a fascinating series of interviews with the people from all walks of life in this city.
Taxi drivers, manicurists, street cleaners, beekeepers…
And one of the stories is about a man from Pakistan called Kamran Sheikh…
Who comes to London, works in a fried chicken shop and a pawnbroker’s, and eventually secures his dream job as a technical analyst in the City.
Perhaps I liked his story in the book because it reminded me of my father, who came to the UK from Pakistan to work when he was 17…
But the reason Kamran left his job at a brokerage firm in Pakistan, is because he knows that London is the global financial centre.
As he says in the book:
A live market has a feeling of life to it:
Each time a number flashes in front of me a deal has taken place […]
They are constantly flashing.
And they are flashing in London because [it is] the centre.
I want to keep it that way.
And through the actions I’ve set out today:
• Stabilising the banking sector in the UK…
• Pursuing tax and regulatory policies that will make the UK attractive for investment…
• Recognising the importance of taking a global view…
• And taking a sensible – and at times muscular – role in international discussions…
I’m sure we can keep it that way."
It is encouraging to see the future of the City and UK financial services in the hands of politicians who have expertise in the field, understand the need for sound markets and ethical business conduct, and appreciate the need to invest to remain competitive. I sincerely hope he sticks with financial services as part of his portfolio.
I will feature the fascinating and thought provoking presentation from Frederic Lebel in my next post.