The landscape may have changed, but the purpose of finance remains the same

First featured in CityAM on 17 January 2020

In January 2007, I walked into my first day in a role at one the world’s leading global financial institutions with all the excitement that comes with a new job.

Like many of those working in the industry at that time, I didn’t foresee the hurricane that was about to hit in the shape of what we now refer to as the global financial crisis.

This was, of course, merely the beginning of a period of challenges, transformation and reinvention, much of which is still underway.

A little over a decade on, I now head up TheCityUK, an organisation born out of those same storms, founded to convene the collective voice of the many sectors across the financial services industry. Our aim today remains fundamentally the same as it was then: to champion and support the success of the financial and related professional services ecosystem.

This year, TheCityUK celebrates its tenth anniversary, a milestone of which I and the team are very proud. Much can alter in a decade — and that is certainly the case for this industry.

The last 10 years have seen a spectrum of changes, from the introduction of tighter regulation and supervision through to a flowering of financial innovation and creativity.

At the heart of much of this change is the customer. As their needs and expectations have evolved, the industry has had to adapt to keep pace.

Consider how the exponential growth of financial technology over the past 10 years has seen the UK become a globally-leading fintech hub, generating revenue in 2016 of £7bn. The expectation is that employment in this sector will increase by around a further 40 per cent in the decade.

As well as increasing transparency and efficiency while reducing costs, fintech has also opened up access to finance, offering customers faster, more effective products and services.

Online banking usage has almost doubled across the decade. In 2017, over 40 per cent of the population used banking apps, and we saw a year-on-year increase of 97 per cent in the number of people using contactless payments. Lawtech, regtech and insuretech — to name just three new fields — are also burgeoning areas of innovation across the industry.

However, while today’s landscape might look different to that of a decade ago, the challenges and opportunities are no less significant: continuing to rebuild trust; integrating revolutionary new technologies; adapting to the changing needs and expectations of employees, employers and customers; and addressing shifting demographics and the rapid rise of emerging global financial centres.

Nor is its national economic importance diminished in any way. The financial services sector is the country’s largest taxpayer and our biggest exporting industry — generating a trade surplus almost equivalent to all other net exporting industries combined.

In a period of such unprecedented transformation, the unique benefits of the UK ecosystem puts our industry in a strong position — but we cannot be complacent. We must be able to adapt, while staying committed to our core purpose.

Today, there are newer, faster and more efficient ways to access the essential services and products we provide than there were in 2010. But fundamentally, the purpose of this industry remains the same.

It helps people to buy a home, to invest, to save, to prepare for retirement, to mediate disagreements, to start and grow businesses, to protect and manage risk, and to generate economic security and growth.

As we look ahead to our next 10 years, these essential elements remain at the core of our work. The next decade promises to be full of change, of innovation, and undoubtedly of unpredictability. But one thing is certain: TheCityUK and the industry we represent are up for the challenge.

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