Lord Mayor of London drums up business in Australia

Mansion House, London: Nicholas Lyons wasn’t a fan of the campaign to quit the European Union.

“You shouldn’t expect me to be an apologist for Brexit … because nothing good has been delivered,” says the man who, as the Lord Mayor of the City of London for a year, is charged with promoting the business hub.

The 694th Lord Mayor of the City of London, Nicholas Lyons, at his office in Mansion House.Credit:Latika Bourke

Nevertheless, the Irish-Anglo financier is in Australia to try to make the most of the opportunities delivered by Britain’s exit. He is essentially part-CEO of the square mile that generates £70 billion ($122 billion) annually, and part-global ambassador for the entire UK’s financial services sector.

“One of the things about being in Europe was that British businesses generally got complacent because they had access to this huge market on their doorstep. They didn’t work hard enough to push hard on Australia and New Zealand, Canada, Asia and other markets in the Gulf. That’s now where there’s an enormous step up from this government and the city.”

Lyons sat down with The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age at his palatial office at London’s historic Mansion House ahead of his arrival this week.

He said that while “little bits of business” had gone from London to Frankfurt, Dublin, Luxembourg and Amsterdam since the Brexit referendum, these had been largely offset by European companies bolstering their UK operations in response to it.

“Each of those financial centres has something that they’re good at, but nobody can compete with the depth and breadth of what we do, even in post-Brexit London,” he said.

“There’s over 500,000 people working here; 7000 jobs we reckon went to continental Europe but more than that have come the other way because European organisations have realised that if they want to be able to have traction in the UK and the financial services that we dominate on here in London, they need more people.”

He said that leaving the EU allowed the government to start regulatory changes that would make the financial services sector more competitive.

“And that, I think, will be positive for London. We’re very much open for business.”

‘Nobody can compete with the depth and breadth of what we do, even in post-Brexit London.’

That is the message he is bringing when he addresses the Australian Superannuation Funds Association’s (ASFA) conference in Brisbane on Wednesday.

“Australia has always impressed me with the way that they have worked constructively and consistently in broadening their footprint internationally, so this is a natural place for Aussies to come,” he said.

Lyons will blitz the country meeting with state governments and Assistant Treasury Minister Stephen Jones.

But he says London is on a mission to learn from Australia too, given it has a healthy banking system that survived the global financial crisis, and one of the world’s largest combined pension pots worth $3 trillion, according to the ASFA.

“Australian financial institutions have been extremely successful,” he said.

“I want us to move our pension system to a much better place in terms of how we utilise it to support the growth and productive economy, so I think we have things to learn from what the Australians have done.”

Lyons would also like to see more investment from China and Arab countries. “I don’t accept an accusation that we should abstract ourselves from doing business with or communicating with China, or the Gulf states or any other hydrocarbon economies, quite the reverse.

“If we want to play our part responsibly in the thought leadership around greener, sustainable finance we need to engage with those countries.”

He urged more Australian expats to move to the British capital, saying predictions of the death of the city due to the COVID-19 pandemic had also been wildly overblown.

“There’s huge demand for office space in London, which means that developers are taking the long-term, very bullish view of London, quite rightly.

“We’ve been around for 1000 years, it’s going to take more than that to destroy us,” he said.

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