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Who needs a financial centre?

For ten years, my friends cover at Z/Yen have been producing the Global Financial Centres Index (GFCI), on behalf of the City of London.  It’s a research program where people can answer the survey questionnaire and, from those participating, the different cities of the world vying to be financial hubs are ranked.  Around 2,500 people respond to the survey and in its first year, March 2007, the winners were:

  1. London
  2. New York
  3. Hong Kong
  4. Singapore
  5. Zurich
  6. Frankfurt
  7. Sydney
  8. Chicago
  9. Tokyo
  10. Geneva

No Dubai.  No China, although Hong Kong would be it.

In September 2016, the last survey, some things had changed:

  1. London
  2. New York
  3. Singapore
  4. Hong Kong
  5. Tokyo
  6. San Francisco
  7. Boston
  8. Chicago
  9. Zurich
  10. Washington DC

No Frankfurt.  No Europe.

Frankfurt has dropped to number 19 on the list, proving that you don’t need to be in Europe to be a major European processing centre for money.  So much for Brexit.

Still no Dubai (#18 on the list) and no China (Shanghai is #16), and intriguing to see five of the top 10 are American cities, compared to just two a decade ago.  Also noteworthy that Singapore and Hong Kong’s rivalry is similar to London and New York’s, with Singapore moving up a notch in the last decade.

So what?

Why is it even worth you bothering to read this?

I guess it’s because I was reflecting on digital currencies and the likes of bitcoin and ZCash.  These are global internet currencies.  They have no cities of focus as centres.  They can be processed and traded anywhere, from the streets of Sao Paolo to the mountains of Nepal.

So this kind of reminded me of a comment made to me by an incredulous journalist twenty years ago – yes, I am seriously that old!  We were talking about mobile payments – yes, it was a topic even back then in 1997 – and I was postulating that you could make a payment anywhere, anytime.  He didn’t believe me, and said: are you seriously trying to tell me that at some point in the future, you could be standing on the top of Mount Everest and be making a payment?  I said yes, of course.

He laughed and didn’t write a complementary story about our meeting.  He should have done though as, just four years ago, Standard Chartered did that exact idea as a publicity stunt.


Ten years ago, as I was sharing with some friends yesterday, I got really bad reviews for a speech at an American conference, where I postulated that all the headlines and the biggest disruptors in finance would come from China over the next decade.  This was based on some in-depth columns I’d written for Finextra on China and India.

Shame as, a decade later, China has produced Alibaba and Ant Financial; it has seen its banks rise to become the biggest and most valued bank brands in the world; and it has seen its citizens truly embracing mobile apps.  From the Jing Daily last week:

According to research by iResearch Global, the transaction volume of Chinese mobile payments reached 10 trillion Chinese yuan (US$1.45 trillion) in 2015 and is projected to reach 22 trillion yuan (US$3.20 trillion) in 2017. In comparison, the equivalent figure for the United States stood at a meager US$8.71 billion in 2015—in spite of efforts made by Apple and Samsung to promote mobile payment features in new smartphone devices. 

So what’s my prediction for ten to twenty years from now?

Well, you’re not going to like it, but my prediction is that Financial Centres as such will become irrelevant.  There will just be a global network of trade, commerce and value exchange based upon open platforms and marketplaces.  This will mean that I could just as easily be Warren Buffet on the top of Mount Everest as in the offices of Berkshire Hathaway in Omaha.

Just a thought …

… but maybe a stupid one. After all, the reason why London is consistently ranked the #1 global financial centre is nothing to do with technology, but to do with the thousands of bankers, lawyers, accountants, auditors, technologists, regulators, politicians, media and such like who sit working adjacent to each other every day …

… or maybe not a stupid one as, in ten to twenty years, they will be virtually sitting next to each other wherever they are.  After all, finance is not a place you go but a thing you do, especially in a decentralised, democratised world.

About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner
Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, TheFinanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here...

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