The City and ‘serving the nations’

Large 4a0c2ec1 6ab7 459e 8339 36c1b6a487ff

The City of London has an important and powerful role to play in supporting the UK and our international allies at this moment in time. Its economic importance cannot be underestimated, and while its position when things are good is important, its skills, expertise, power and values are even more poignant when times are hard. For me, the role of The City is about service - as individuals to The City, as companies to our clients, and as The City to the nation and the world. Now, more than ever, we have an opportunity to serve.

This autumn has marked a period of change - a new Prime Minister, a new cabinet, a renewed energy to address the challenges of the day - and they do need addressing. The cost of living crisis raises immediate and systemic questions in economics and beyond.

In his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, the economist, Thomas Piketty, discussed his belief that the economic system we have, inevitably leads to financial inequality. The pillars on which we have lived for so long are perhaps showing their age, and we need to take a moment to think about our motivations accordingly. 

In another sphere, The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby said: "We are living in times – and in a world – that urgently need healing, justice and hope.” To my mind, he is right. Whether you want to look at domestic fluctuations in politics and central government, the global challenges of war, international discord and the cost of living, or the personal challenges we all face, internally and with our loved ones, there is a lot going on, much of which requires more support than perhaps at other times.

In answer to the current climate, in recent months the Rt. Revd Dr. Graham Tomlin is stepping down from his position as Bishop of Kensington to lead the Centre for Cultural Witness from its base at Lambeth Palace. 

During his time as Bishop of Kensington, Reverend Tomlin has supported communities in West London, in particular following the Grenfell Tower tragedy. The purpose of the new initiative is theological research, to communicate Christian perspectives on culture and contemporary life, and to debate how the Church might contribute, challenge and respond to contemporary cultural issues alongside those of all faiths and none. 

In short, he is focusing on bringing communities together, but what is happening in the world today that makes him feel that now is the time for a different approach? 

Re-aligning with our values

Values - our values and the ones we want to stand for - are the running thread here. Knowing what values we in The City stand for and want to represent, communicating them and most importantly, acting on them, is the map that can guide us. 

Mark Carney's book, Value(s), opens by citing Pope Francis at a Bank of England lunch, noting how current trends are turning the wine of humanity into a toxic grappa of self-interest. The Guardian summed up Carney's seven key values as "solidarity, fairness, responsibility, resilience, sustainability, dynamism and humility – all laced with compassion."

Lord Green addressed the search for human values in his 2019 book, The Human Odyssey. Meanwhile, his 2009 book Good Value: Reflections on Money, Morality and an Uncertain World, marks him out as 'a banker with good intentions' - as one Amazon reviewer put it.  

This question of value and values is a poignant one for all, but especially in The City of London, so often seen on a human level as purely being a money-making machine, siloed from the rest of the UK. To my mind, its value and values run far deeper than that, but it’s important that we remain cognisant of them, reflect on them, ensure their relevance and effectiveness.  Collectively we need to know the values that we want to underpin the City today and going forward.

Service to ‘the nations’

For me, the root of knowing this and achieving this is about service - as individuals to The City, as companies to our clients, and as The City to the nation and the world. 

The City has an important and powerful role to play in supporting the UK and our international allies at this moment in time. Its economic importance cannot be underestimated, and while its position when things are good is important, its skills, expertise, power and values are even more poignant when times are hard - notably in building back the economy.

As we consider our values and how we want to serve individuals, customers, the UK and the global community, I don't think we need to consider radical change to our structure. In many ways I think it's about remembering who we are and what we stand for. 

Lord Jonathan Hill wrote in a government report last year about how we might encourage more tech companies in the UK. His thoughts were followed by The Kalifa Review. The encouragement of technology companies in the UK is brilliant, and I have written about it before. However, it is not to replace or detract from the UK’s commercial heritage. Historically and culturally we are an outward facing global trading nation; 80% of total UK GDP (and 82% of employment), is the product of invisible services rather than goods.  

We need to understand who we are, what our USP is, what our historic culture is and align ourselves with our heritage and DNA as being an outward facing nation, rather than aiming to be a replica of the United States or anywhere else. We have our own cultural identity and when others are withdrawing in a world of de-globalisation, we can fall back on our historic cultural DNA, our international connections and the Commonwealth to meet the needs of everyone involved. These are bonds that are not so readily available to others.

The City is here to serve, and to serve all - that is our core value.