How can the City recover its political capital?
The good news? The financial sector is no longer enemy number one. Its place has been taken by our fumbling politicians. The bad news? The City has not regained its political capital.
Post the financial crisis the City, meaning financial and professional services in the UK, lost the trust of the nation. A perfectly understandable and justifiable result, but one that must change because of the harm that is being done to our economy when the City has no advocates beyond its own members.
As the country grapples with Brexit, assembly lines of MPs appear on television defending the UK’s manufacturing base. Not one talks about the need to defend the City, despite it being responsible for over 13.5% of tax revenues – that’s a lot of hospitals, infrastructure and schools. It is also responsible for around 2.3m jobs – jobs that aren’t just in the Square Mile, or London and the South East, but also in Liverpool, Glasgow and Bournemouth.
A lot of work is going on to regain the trust of the population, but it doesn’t make the headlines. UK Finance and The City UK are coordinating their members (banks and other professional services companies) with politicians to deal with the issues that generally fill the inboxes of MPs, most notably fraud and the finances of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
The £4mTake 5 campaign against criminal money transfers, an initiative between financial services companies and the Home Office, has raised awareness of smooth-talking criminals asking for PINs and passwords. Meanwhile, a new ombudsman scheme, plus a complaints review and redress policy, will be in place by September this year to deal with dispute resolutions between the banks and SMEs. Less than a year ago, 22 banks were forced to publish the results of their customer service ratings on their branch walls.
Yet none of this represents a positive campaign to clarify the City’s national role and international role. Those who see press reports on mega-bonused bankers or financiers in court for rigging Libor need to see other images which are just as real. Kevin, the bank worker in Bournemouth, where financial services is the biggest employer. Sue, the elderly lady in Somerset who relies on her pension. Lucas, the toddler whose parents have bought him a Junior ISA. And the hundreds of sports grounds and start- ups, coffee shops and corner stores, that rely on finance to survive and prosper.
The City’s human face should be shown in granular detail. It is never more in evidence than on September 24, City Giving Day, an annual event where businesses raise money for charitable causes. It began with tea and cakes in Guildhall Yard, the centre of City government, in 2015. Last year, 313 companies participated, from Bank of China’s renown market stalls selling home-made Chinese specialties to Tour de City, a team effort on static bikes where enthusiasm and buckets of sweat abound. Insurance brokers and lawyers in City Giving Day red t-shirts race around the streets on a treasure hunt. The initiative was so successful that it was taken up by Birmingham and is set to spread to other cities later this year.
The City’s creative energy and its ability to implement change should be celebrated. This isn’t only in Green Finance, or Fintech, where we are the world’s leader, or Social Impact investing. A few years ago, Barclays posted a 5-minute video on its intranet in which an employee detailed their mental health struggles. The reaction in the bank was so positive in encouraging conversations around mental health and broadening the mental health offering that This is Me, as it was called, was taken up by the Lord Mayor’s Appeal and publicised. By the end of 2018 the initiative had reached over a million employees in over 500 organisations and was launched in the North West and Scotland.
What should also be showcased, not least at a time of national division, is the City’s nearly 2,000 years of history, from its Roman beginnings to its famed coffee houses, the precursors to markets like Lloyd’s of London, and the huge contribution immigrants like Sir Sigmund Warburg made to its success. The Lord Mayor’s Show dates back to the 16th century. It is still the longest and most grand annual civic parade. Yet it is barely marketed in London or the regions, let alone abroad. This is surely a wasted opportunity.
Over the last two years the City has lost an estimated 75,000 jobs and a trillion in assets as companies seek to guarantee seamless access to the European Single Market by moving parts of their operations abroad. But it is still a European jewel. supplying half the debt and equity to EU business and over a trillion a year in direct lending. And its position as a global jewel -with difficult-to-replicate regulation, rule of law and a wide pool of talent – must be defended.
Whatever happens in the next few days in politics, the uncertainty is likely to continue over weeks and months. It is time for the City to stop hiding its lights under a bushel. With humility and humanity, and an acknowledgement of its wrongs, the City should use storytelling to regain its rightful place in the national narrative.
This article was published in the Daily Telegraph on Tuesday 30th April 2019.