The Lord Mayor of London, William Russell, concluded a two-day virtual visit to India this week that focussed on enhancing the UK-India fintech collaboration and developing a pathway towards sustainable capital flow between the two countries. In this interview with 'India Global Business', the global ambassador for the UK's financial and professional services industry at the City of London Corporation sheds some light on the priority areas for closer cooperation, post-Brexit focus and the optimism around the UK's very own Covid-19 vaccine offering a light at the end of the tunnel.
What have been some of the highlights of the virtual visit to India?
The focus was around sustainable finance, fintech and gender diversity. We had the Fintech Awards and there were a number of winners in various sectors, including insurtech.
There are a number of UK fintech companies that will be going into India and there are some Indian fintech companies who are looking to see what they can do in the UK and we have the expertise here in London to help the fintech scene in India.
One of the reasons why the UK is the fintech centre of the world is because of our regulation and I know our regulators talk. Through better regulation and more flexible regulation, there is a great opportunity to grow the fintech space and enhance that whole ecosystem, and India is an exciting country for that.
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Was Brexit and the lack of a UK-EU trade agreement yet flagged as an area of concern?
The word Brexit did not really come up. It is obvious we want a deal [with the European Union] and then we can move on as the City and negotiate a deal around financial services.
With the transition period coming to an end [at the end of this year], trade is a critical part of the next 12-18 months for the UK. We are leaving the EU and we are going to be out there promoting Global Britain and it′s an exciting time for us.
The ecosystem of London rests on global talent and as long as that can carry on, that is a critical part of our success. And, the government recognises that and I see no reason why that won′t continue for us to maintain our status as the financial centre of the world.
How did this visit build on the recently concluded Economic and Financial Dialogue (EFD)?
The visit has just enhanced things. It′s great that the Chancellor [Rishi Sunak] was fully engaged during the EFD. We are headed in the right direction; we are here to work and collaborate with India.
One of the discussions I had was how the London Stock Exchange can help structure more green infrastructure bonds to invest in the sustainable infrastructure within India. I did a virtual trip to Gujarat International Finance Tec City (GIFT City), which was incredibly impressive, and the connections with the London Stock Exchange will only be further enhanced.
The whole digital payments area is huge in the UK, it is certainly getting more efficient. The technology here and the technology in India offers great opportunity and that is something the Indian authorities recognise. It′s all about knowledge sharing and collaboration.
Did the positive news of Oxford University's Covid-19 vaccine add a bounce to the talks this week?
There is light at the end of the tunnel. We had already had Pfizer and Moderna, we knew Oxford University′s vaccine was coming. We were optimistic that it was going to be as good, if not better, and it looks like it′s better certainly from the pricing point of view.
Hopefully we can make enough and share it around the world because this is a global pandemic and a time to work closely together. There is huge amounts of optimism.
What did the gender diversity strand of your visit focus on?
It is something we feel very strongly about here in the City of London, particularly around financial services. We had a webinar and other companies involved included Natwest, HSBC, IndiaFirst Life Insurance and Zest Money. So, it is a joint collaboration around gender diversity.
All the facts are there around gender diversity and inclusion - companies are better off with good gender diversity and inclusion. And, that is something that we have been pushing, with the Lord Mayor′s Appeal and Power of Inclusion. A diverse culture within corporations means the corporation actually does matter.
I think the momentum was there and the pandemic has maybe helped bring it more to the fore. If we look around the world, the countries that have done very well are with female leaders - New Zealand [Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern] and Germany [Chancellor Angela Merkel].
So, it was something the world was already waking up to but like so many things around Covid-19, it has brought it to the fore - like digitisation and climate change.