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A Swiss model for the City?
February 23, 2015

A Swiss model for the City?

A coherent, effective and innovation-friendly interest group for financial centre issues. That’s what London City is looking to achieve. Is this maybe finally an area where the Swiss banks have the edge?

At present, UK-based financial services providers are members of up to 50 different organisations, pay x number of different membership fees and make employees available for participation in task forces, consultations and discussions on all kinds issues. The result is duplication of effort, unbelievably high costs, decision-making becomes inefficient and for the unlucky politician, they become subject to a storm of varying demands on the same issue on behalf of three different organisations.. Enough is enough, decided a high-level City of London committee comprising of Britain’s major banks, which has launched a consultation on how the financial associations landscape in the United Kingdom can be set up in a more effective manner.

The architects of this idea also expect that the financial sector can win back lost trust more easily if it is clearer what the City does, and what it stands for and advocates. Barclays, Nationwide and other financial institutions have drawn up a wish list of criteria for such a ‘super-association’. It should pool concerns and address them in a timely manner, should be a unified front vis-à-vis the public, and in particular, should be a competent point of reference for politicians. Under the new arrangements, smaller financial services providers will be hopeful for an improved awareness of the specific business issues they face. Also, it is envisaged that new players in the financial market are to be involved in this association at an early stage.

From London’s point of view, the existence of a strong bankers association must seem like a comfortable arrangement. The City is looking for something that Switzerland already has. But what kind of situation is there in the paradise of interest groups? Differences between the banks tend to get overemphasised instead of being viewed as normal. The fact remains that all banks continue to face common threats in terms of their business operations, the changing nature of the market place, and the cost and impact of new regulation. In reality, the differences between the different banking groups are small in number, but they are being milked for all they are worth in the Swiss media. None-the-less, the landscape is changing and new challenges are emerging. Industry associations such as the Swiss Bankers Association need to remain ‘fit-for-purpose’ and they need to adapt to any emerging developments – this is as true for Switzerland as it is for the UK. Thumbing one’s nose in the direction of the Thames is therefore not recommended.

In thinking about these new challenges, there is one key aspect of the consultation that makes me pause for thought: the inclusion of new market players in the super-association is expressly intended. In Switzerland we also have to start thinking about how we should deal with fintech companies, crowd funders et al. Don’t kill the messenger: there is no getting around the fact that the value-added chain is being further broken up by non-bank-related service providers. We can either ignore this development or integrate these new players at an early stage and in an open manner. Otherwise London will get ahead of us yet again.