By Kirstin Ridley
British bankers are not threatening to head for the Swiss hills. But that doesn’t mean they won’t pack their bags. So says Angela Knight, the head of the British Bankers Association.
Knight told the Reuters Future Face of Finance Summit that if British-based banks such as HSBC, Barclays and Standard Chartered consider whether to keep headquarters in London – given the banker bashing, punitive taxation and pay restrictions imposed here -- that is merely a fact.
Speaking one day after Europe’s largest bank HSBC cut profitability targets as tougher bank regulations eat into earnings, Knight conceded that she did not expect banks to move lock, stock and barrel to Geneva – and that images of jumbo jets laden with London bankers in pinstriped suits were mere “cartoons”.
But she said the simple truth was that the British economic growth lagged that of peers, while fixed costs were rising. Britain was not an obviously attractive place to be for bankers.
To remain an international financial centre, the country needed to be clever and get its regulation right. Banks, she said, were just telling it as it is. “Is there an expectation that employment in banking will be reduced? Yes … Is there an expectation that sentiment will turn around? No,” she said. “We are living in a country and a region where the costs of operation are high and (there is) a lot of personal condemnation (of the banking industry)... so I think that we cannot pretend that somehow that has no effect and no impact.
“Why anyone calls it sabre rattling, I do not know, other than the fact that they must themselves be in denial,” she said. “Because these are just facts. These are not threats, they are not sabre-rattling. They’re not pretence. They are straight forward facts.”