Lord Mayor of the City of London seeks NI firms for US venture capital mission

Lord Mayor of the City of London, William Russell
Ryan McAleer

THE Lord Mayor of London will arrive in Northern Ireland on Thursday in a bid to encourage fintech firms here to join his mission to bring back venture capital investment from the United States and elsewhere.

William Russell took up the role as head of the City of London Corporation just over two weeks ago. Unlike the role of Mayor of London, the Lord Mayor is responsible for the square mile dedicated to London’s financial and professional services sector.

Mr Russell is the 692nd person to hold the title. Aged 54, he is also the fifth person in his family to be Lord Mayor of London. Homeland and Band of Brothers star Damian Lewis is his half-brother.

As part of his one year tenure in the elected role, Mr Russell is preparing to visit some 20 countries over the space of 100 days.

It’s part of his brief as an ambassador for the UK’s financial and professional services industry.

It includes an upcoming visit to Silicon Valley, where he will seek to play the role as “conduit” between UK firms and US venture capitalists.

But speaking to the Irish News, he said he understands the world of financial services is bigger than just the City of London.

“It’s not all about London. We have fintech and financial services companies all over the UK and it would be great if some of the companies would be able to join me.”

He’s already visited parts of northern England and on Thursday, he arrives in Belfast. He will spend two days in city meeting companies and industry stakeholders before heading to Derry to do the same.

“It’s really a call to action in the fintech and innovation space,” he said.

“My first trip is to San Francisco and then Mexico. But in the New Year we will go to a lot of other places. It’s really to embrace the regions and to say ‘we’re here to work with you and it’s not just all about London’.”

Northern Ireland is one of six ‘super regions’ identified by the corporation.

“I’m a conduit to opening doors that probably may not have bene opened before. A lot of it is about the venture capital (VC) side of the business – we’re calling it a VC campaign to get more funding over here.

“At the same time, we’ll take some fintech and cybersecurity companies with us.”

He said the trip will also seek to boost business and civic ties between the north and the City of London, something he said that the City Corporation sees as particularly important with Brexit looming.

Meanwhile, updated research from New Financial has found that 332 firms in the UK banking and finance industry have responded to Brexit by relocating part of their business, moving some staff, or setting up new entities in the EU.

That figure is 63 more (23 per cent) than the paper produced by the capital markets think tank in March.

New Financial found Dublin as the big winner in attracting business from the UK. Some 115 firms have opted to jump across the Irish Sea, representing 30 per cent of all moves.

William Russell, who previously worked with Merrill Lynch believes many companies are hedging their bets in the face of Brexit uncertainty.

Now called Bank of America Merrill Lynch, the US banking giant relocated around 100 staff to Dublin, effectively creating a new European hub in the city.

But the Lord Mayor believes most companies are waiting to see what happens with the UK’s EU withdrawal deal after the election.

“We’ve actually lost a lot less jobs than a lot of people thought we would,” he said.

“It hasn’t been as bad as people thought. However we do recognise there is still uncertainty and a lot of companies have delayed decisions in order to wait and see what happens around the deal after the election."

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