City view: Financial services fair weather leaders

The financial services sector needs a loud, visible, champion communicator post Brexit

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The announcement that the UK again has a functioning Prime Minister is particularly welcome because, for three weeks since the EU referendum result on 24 June, the country has been rudderless, just at the very point when a firm hand to calm an unsettled and divided nation is needed most.

However, it remains particularly galling that there is a complete leadership vacuum in financial services – one of the most important sectors in the economy and one over which other EU financial centres are salivating at the real prospect of attracting business from the UK.   

Of course, many if not most financial institutions and advisory firms have been contacting their customers and reassuring them that help is at hand, and that they remain completely open for business. That is commendable.

The regulators, especially the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA), have been actively talking to their key constituents. However, this has all been taking place quietly, behind the scenes, and is very much focused on client and customer relationships.

What has been sorely missing is public leadership for the whole financial sector

What has been sorely missing is public leadership for the whole financial sector. At a time of great uncertainty, the City needed a person, or organisation, to provide reassurance, vision, purpose and dynamism. 

The financial services sector urgently needs an articulate, communicative leader who should be highly visible. He or she should have been giving press interviews, appearing on TV and radio and exploiting social media to the hilt with a constant message, promoting financial services, calming nervous employees and customers, setting out what is needed in future negotiations and expanding on the positive opportunities ahead. 

The last time there was major uncertainty in the financial sector was in 2007. Then, Angela Knight CBE FCSI(Hon), the passionate, energetic former head of the British Bankers Association and de facto spokesman for the banking and finance sector, was everywhere. On some days she carried the industry’s standard in more than a dozen media interviews and was regularly on panels and live TV debates, always putting forward the industry’s perspective and plans, giving direction and pushing the case for the sector.

Compare the reaction in 2016. 

Where were all the trade bodies, corporations, local MPs and other organisations that represent the constituent parts of financial services? 

There have been a number of discussions beneath the radar, but that’s not good enough. What the sector needs is a public, loud, visible, champion communicator. Instead there has been almost total silence and zero direction or reassurance. It is no wonder that a new body, City United, is emerging to fill the vacuum.

There are strong winds from Europe now threatening our sector. Our industry’s one million employees deserve more than fair weather leaders; they deserve men and women who will step up to the plate quickly. If our present captains are not prepared to chart our course to a successful Brexit, as our new Prime Minister and her ‘Ministry for Brexit’ will rightly demand, we – and she – must find and welcome others who are prepared to do so, and quickly.

This is an opinion piece to generate debate and does not represent official CISI policy.
Published: 13 Jul 2016
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