UK financial services exports: beyond the headline figures

28 February 2023

More granular detail about where industry exports originate and where they are sold give us more, though still evolving, insight into a crucial part of the economy.

Last week I was very pleased to participate in the Department for Business and Trade’s ‘UK Services Roadshow’ – a series of events in cities across the UK designed to give local service-sector businesses knowledge and support to allow them to begin exporting, or to expand their existing exports. My presentation drew on our recently-published ‘Exporting from across Britain’ report, which analysed financial and related professional services exports from each British region and nation. Our research found that of Britain’s £129.7bn in financial and related professional services exports in 2020, 57% originated in London and 43% originated in other regions and nations. Financial services was the biggest exporting service sector in every British region and nation in 2020 apart from the South East (where the largest exporting service sectors in that year were professional, scientific and technical activities and Information and communication services) and the East of England (where the largest exporting service sector in that year was professional, scientific and technical activities). This chart shows that financial and related professional services exports as a proportion of total services exports in 2020 varied from around one-quarter the South East to more than half in Wales.

Total services exports and financial and related professional services exports by region and nation, 2020 (£bn)
Source: Office for National Statistics and TheCityUK calculations

Our report also includes, for each region and nation, a high-level breakdown of financial services exports by destination. The data only provide an EU/non-EU split—but already this gives us more insight than we had even a couple of years ago thanks to the great work that’s been done by the Office for National Statistics to refine trade data and make it more granular. In each region and nation, about one-quarter of financial services exports went to EU countries, and about three-quarters to non-EU countries in 2020.

Although it’s not possible to analyse industry exports by region or origin and country of destination, we undertook some additional analysis to look at trends in overall financial services exports to the EU in the past several years. Financial services exports to the EU have been fairly steady, with annual average growth of 2.9% over the past six years—notwithstanding the year-on-year decline in H1 2021. The chart below shows January-June data from 2016-2022 because full-year data are not yet available for 2022:
UK FS exports to the EU, £m
Source: TheCityUK calculations based on ONS data

However, that aggregate conceals divergent trends when we consider individual country destinations. For example, bucking the general decline in industry exports to the EU in 2021, financial services exports to Luxembourg increased year on year in H1 2021. Considering H1 2022, industry exports to France showed a particularly marked increase, at 33% year on year.

UK FS exports to key EU countries, £mSource: TheCityUK calculations based on ONS data

But this needs to be seen in the context of a general 25% year-on-year increase in UK services exports to France in that period. Other important EU trade partners such as the Netherlands, Italy, and Germany also registered growth in financial services imports from the UK (albeit at lower rates) in H1 2022, and also against the backdrop of a rise in total services imports from the UK. This implies that over and above any country-specific factors at play—which would need detailed insight and analysis to unpack—trends in financial services exports were following wider trade trends, likely reflecting overall demand conditions. Furthermore, surging inflation since 2021 means that some of the increases registered in 2022 are simply on account of price changes rather than volume changes (the data are reported in current prices, so not adjusted for inflation).

In its latest Monetary Policy Report, the Bank of England described recent trends in similarly general terms, noting: “In terms of services, trade with the EU…has been somewhat weaker than trade with the non-EU following the change in the UK’s trading relationship with the EU. Recent trade in services have reduced the extent of this divergence however.”[1] The Bank’s more detailed analysis of trade with the EU focuses on goods; this is a reminder of how difficult it is to accurately measure services trade—an issue which I have previously written about here, for example. The ONS’s subnational services trade data that is the basis for our ‘Exporting from across Britain’ report is classed as experimental not official, and therefore “potentially have a wider degree of uncertainty.”[2] But every improvement in the detail and timeliness of data on services trade improves our understanding of this crucial—though often ill-understood and under-estimated—part of the economy.

[1] Bank of England, Monetary Policy Report (February 2023), p. 85; available at:

[2] Office for National Statistics, ‘Guide to experimental statistics’, available at:

Anjalika Bardalai photo
Anjalika Bardalai Chief Economist and Head of Research

Anjalika manages TheCityUK’s economic research programme. She leads the team that produces the organisation’s in-house economic research, presents research and analysis externally, and writes TheCityUK’s economics blog.

Prior to joining TheCityUK in 2014, Anjalika spent 12 years with the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) in the company’s New York and London offices, holding a number of different roles, including head of the EIU’s flagship Country Reports series. She also worked for the consultancy Eurasia Group, advising financial-markets clients on economic and political risk. She has spoken at conferences in a dozen countries across the Americas, Asia and Europe. In addition, she has appeared as a commentator on leading international broadcast media, and has been quoted in print media in the UK, US, India and elsewhere.

Anjalika has a BA from New York University and an MBA from Imperial College Business School. She sits on the Advisory Council of the International Sustainability Institute, and is an Ambassador for the financial-education charity FairLife. In addition, she is Vice Chair of the RSPCA’s London East Branch and previously served as a Trustee of the charity All Stars London and as a member of the Alumni Advisory Board at Imperial College Business School.