What Brexit means for financial services

11 January 2017

So much has already been made of what Brexit will mean for London's status as a global financial centre and this is clearly uppermost in the minds of US financial services firms who have long come to rely on the class-leading infrastructure and highly skilled workforce that the City brings.

As things stand, it's very much business as usual but all will be acutely aware of the pretenders to the financial throne eagerly waiting in the wings to step in should market conditions in the UK become especially unfavourable. Dublin for example has very much been stepping up its game recently, gearing up its infrastructure to attract business from across the pond but the reality is, it and the likes of Paris and Frankfurt, while bonafide financial centres in their own right, simply don't yet have the offer to truly compete.

That said, London simply can't rest on its laurels. One of the biggest concerns for US financial firms with major operations in the UK will be the impact any tougher line on immigration policy for skilled workers could have on the City's ingrained and hard-won financial services culture. Should UK policymakers opt for a harder line approach to Brexit, London's rich talent pool could prove difficult to sustain and of course, recapture further down the line. Indeed, this is mirrored by the survey findings which show firms appear perfectly prepared to relocate from the UK or indeed bypass it altogether in order to continue doing smooth business with the EU.

As well as retaining access to a highly skilled workforce, US firms (along with our own) will be watching for any sign that the UK might retain the financial services passports which have given this country access to European markets and which have been a driving force for third country institutions to establish a base in the UK. Access to technical skills, world class market infrastructure and the EU financial services passport have combined to make the City of London a potent magnet over the last few decades for third country firms.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, financial services firms emerge as the strongest in favour of a direct trade deal being established between the two nations. With the biggest US market players already firmly embedded in the UK, this would be a major boon for both parties and could open up the possibility of the UK establishing further deals with the particularly buoyant Asian and African markets and all the pan global selling and partnership opportunities that would bring.

While it appears firms are mindful of the need to bring in external financial support to successfully navigate the complexities of the Brexit process, we believe this is most appropriate for smaller, support concerns. Given some of the sector's various high profile regulatory challenges of recent years, the largest players operate regulation and compliance functions to dwarf even the largest of global law firms so will have in depth Brexit scenario planning firmly on their radars. Looking beyond this aspect, the benefits of US financial firms maintaining the special relationship are manifest - for both London and sector businesses across the UK.

Ultimately, while so much uncertainty exists around what type of Brexit the UK will pursue, for the moment US financial services firms are in a comfortable holding pattern above London, very much hoping as much of the current status quo can be retained. As lawmakers thrash out timescales for exiting the EU this position could well change though. As such, major institutions and smaller players alike will very much be keeping a keen eye on developments over the coming months.

Kirsty Barnes, partner and Gowling WLG's Head of Banking and Finance and Penny Sanders, Head of Financial Services Regulation at the firm.

The following graphs highlight how US businesses with a turnover of $13 million or above are already reacting and preparing for Brexit.

Do you think the delay of up to two years (or possibly longer) for the UK to negotiate an exit from the EU will have a negative impact on your business?

28%25 Yes, it will have a negative impact, 45%25 No, it will have a positive impact. 22%25 It won't have any impact. 5%25 I don't know what impact the delay will have on my business

Is uncertainty about the future regulatory environment affecting decisions you are making about trade and investment with the UK right now?

24%25 Yes, it is having a negative impact on such decisions. 47%25 Yes, it is having a positive impact on such decisions. 29%25 No, it isn't having any impact on such decisions.

If you have a base in the UK, are you considering moving it to elsewhere in the EU as a result of Brexit?

12%25 We don't have a base in the UK. 42%25 Yes. 46%25 No.

Would you favour a direct trade deal between the US and UK?

89%25 Yes. 11%25 No.

Are you more likely to bypass the UK in order to do business with the rest of the EU as a result of the Brexit vote?

55%25 No. 45%25 Yes.

Other than a change to tariffs, what factors would encourage you to continue trading and/or investing/providing services into the UK following Brexit?

32%25 Size, composition and preferences of the UK market. 30%25 Regulatory stability. 27%25 A trusted legal and institutional framework. 28%25 The £/$ exchange rate. 23%25 Common language. 27%25 Mobility of capital. 22%25 Ease and cost of establishment in the UK. 26%25 Access to capital. 20%25 Lack of opportunities in the US domestic market. 20%25 UK workforce. 15%25 Mobility of labour. 11%25 US goverment subsides to facilitate production or export financing. 1%25 Nothing would encourage me to continue trading and/or investing/provding services into the UK following Brexit.

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