Monday was supposed to mark a whirlwind tour of North America for the 692nd Rt Hon Lord Mayor of London, William Russell, but due to Covid travel restrictions, he will have to make the trip remotely.
Americans and Canadians might not be too familiar with the tradition, but while Sadiq Khan is the Mayor of London who looks after the interests of more than 8million people, Alderman William Russell holds a mayoralty that dates back to 1189, and his main duty is to act as an ambassador for the financial services sector. It is one of the world’s oldest continuously elected civic offices and represents the interests of the 2.3million people that work within the financial services sector.
In normal times, the Lord Mayor would usually travel over 100 days of the year to more than 30 countries while promoting the financial professional services, both those from within the 2.9km City of London and also others throughout the UK. This year though, things have been slightly different.
Before Covid-19, Alderman William Russell had never used Zoom, although he has had plenty of experience with the fast-changing job of Lord Mayor of the City of London. He is the fifth member of his family to hold the office since 1913 and still remembers his grandfather taking on the role when he was just four-years-old. Still, he is the only Lord Mayor in his family to stay in the role for two consecutive years, as he was re-elected when the travel restrictions of coronavirus became apparent. It was back in the 1860s that a Lord Mayor last served two consecutive terms. Through the power of technology, he has already made visits to places as far away as Canada, Australia and even Glasgow, which have all been arranged virtually – some even taking place on the same day.
With a previous career in banking, at First Boston then Merril Lynch, he now sits on the Advisory Board of Innovate Finance, and as part of his role, he will embark on a virtual tour of North America, starting this week. Peter Estlin, Lord Mayor of London in 2019, said while in office: “The US and Canada are two of the UK’s most significant trading partners, not least when it comes to financial services”, and with this new business deligation, the sentiment carries on.
Alderman William Russell said, “London and the UK is a great opportunity for our US friends and they recognise that. The UK is the hub and it’s nice to see North American companies not only investing in UK businesses but also playing a part on our boards as well. We want to reach out to those VCs and investors in America and hope that they see this visit as an opportunity to learn more about what the UK has to offer.”
Indeed, and it’s not just the City of London that the Lord Mayor will be looking to promote. A previous virtual visit to Glasgow earlier in the month, one of the UK’s financial hubs outside the city, made a marked impression. “People forget that there is so much going on in the UK, I was sitting next to the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, in Edinburgh for Burns Night when Scotland was given the European Fintech Cluster title, and recently I’ve just visited Glasgow, the third-largest financial centre in the UK which is doing great things. We have so many opportunities for Fintech in this country.”
And these opportunities are only set to get stronger, as together with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), the City of London earlier this month announced the launch of a new digital sandbox pilot, aimed at assisting innovative companies in tackling coronavirus challenges. Applications for the sandbox are still open and Alderman Russell is encouraging companies to apply. He said, “As with the original scheme, the sandbox is a great way to get new businesses doing trials before they reach the FCA. I believe that the sandbox can produce great things here in the UK.”
While the Lord Mayor managed a short visit to the US in December, most recently he was able to jump on a virtual call with OTPP, who recently announced a $500m investment in UK-based firm ComplyAdvantage to help fight financial crime. “I got together with them in a fireside chat ahead of the trip and found it fascinating, it’s time like these you want to be investing alongside them because it really is so exciting out there at the moment. My goal now is to create this partnership where North American VCs want to invest here in the UK, and hopefully encourage fintech companies one day to list on the London Stock Exchange.”
The Lord Mayor will now guide a business delegation of some of the UK’s best fintech’s and VCs as they meet together virtually. Companies such as Clause Match, OakNorth, Outward VC and GoodBox are expected to take part.