2020 Knowledge Series | In conversation with the Lord Mayor of the City of London

COVID-19 has accelerated innovation and fast-tracked the UK economy into era of green finance.

Lord Mayor of the City of London, Alderman William Russell recently spoke with Australian Investment Council Chief Executive Yasser El-Ansary via video conference in a one-hour webinar watched by members all over the country. They discussed the impact of COVID-19 on the UK economy, the importance of free trade agreements and the Sydney-London Fintech bridge.

“I don’t think the office is dead but I recognise that things will change dramatically in the way we work in the future − hot-desking won’t be around and the way that we collaborate will be different,” Alderman Russell said from his office in London.

Alderman Russell sees less air travel and more virtual collaboration as changes that will become permanent as a result of the current environment.

“During the COVID-19 lockdown we have seen that pitches are still happening successfully, but with the current travel restrictions we are not having to fly anywhere. These may be changes that stay when the recovery which I term ‘repositioned normality’ comes.”

Build Back Better – Positive changes around climate

Amongst other things, COVID-19 has highlighted the importance for economies to be prepared for pandemics. Alderman Russell believes one of the positive outcomes will be changes in policies and actions on climate change.

“Build Back Better is the phrase we are using in the UK,” he says. “COVID has focused all of our minds on what happens next, and it is going to be climate change. We have to go about it now before it’s too late.

“HRH Prince Charles and David Attenborough have been warning us about climate change for years. Now it’s time to listen to the scientists about climate change.”

In the UK, green is top of mind with a huge amount of infrastructure and clean energy projects underway. Superannuation and sovereign wealth funds in the Gulf States have taken a keen interest in this area and the UK Government is focused on moving quickly on Infrastructure through increased investment and fast-tracking projects.

“Australia plays an important position in the pecking order but is not part of the leading group of nations on green finance,” Alderman Russell said.

He said Temasek in Singapore had set a very high benchmark in where they will be investing their money and that large shareholders can drive the process of change.

“Asset managers need to recognise they are in a hugely powerful position to effect change around the green agenda.

“We talk about the transition. If we see that investment managers are working on a transition to get to a green place then that is part of the process. By remaining invested we can bring about change from within. That’s the transition bit – you remain invested because the company is committed to transition. If the company is not making that transition it is difficult to remain invested and that will make it difficult for the company to raise capital and grow.

“A firm like KKR will look at the sustainability of the company. If it isn’t sustainable no one will invest in it on the stock exchange. And we have seen huge returns being made with ESG stocks outperforming other shares over 1, 2, 3, 5 and 10 years.”

Fintech and Financial Services

As spokesperson on financial and professional services, Alderman William Russell is the 692nd Lord Mayor of the City of London and stands alongside Sir William Cubitt and Sir Richard Whittington as one of three lord mayors since the role was inaugurated in 1189 to have a tenure of more than one year.

“My focus is very much on financial and professional services. This is where Australia and the UK have a lot in common.”

As a world leader in fintech, there are lessons to be learned from the UK Fintech and innovation economy.

Alderman Russell says Australian companies that use the Fintech Bridge between Australia and the UK will learn a great deal from the ecosystem which has become UK-wide in places like Leeds, and Londonderry. He also cites the regulator, which has a strong consumer focus as key to the sector’s success.

The UK will continue to consolidate its position as a world leader in Fintech. It recently announced a review on how the Role of the Fintech sector can help the UK economy in terms of COVID and Brexit. The report on the inquiry is due to be released by the end of the year.


Alderman Russell is confident a Brexit deal will be signed between now and 31 December which will provide much needed certainty for the UK economy.

“I’m sure the downturn in the UK stockmarket is waiting to see the outcome.” Although, he says in reflection, the banks aren’t going anywhere and he believes the 85,000 jobs that were estimated to be lost as a result of Brexit would be closer to 5,000 and that jobs have grown in areas like Fintech and green finance.

Now we are leaving the EU we can change our trading relationship dramatically.

The UK is progressing its Free Trade Agreement with Australia and is building closer trading ties with nations like Japan and Singapore. The first agreement is expected to be signed with Japan by the end of July.

The outlook

Overall, the UK is well positioned for Brexit and COVID-19.

The UK has a vibrant ecosystem and a favourable time zone for attracting talent and businesses and investment has been with strong with 1.79 billion pounds in investment capital in 2018.

There is government support for start-ups and early stage businesses through the Enterprise Investment Scheme which offers tax breaks for investment and successful business outcomes.

During Covid-19 the Future Fund was created to support innovation and to ensure the pipeline of new businesses and innovation continues.

And, a last word on Brexit: “We have until December 31st. I’m an optimist. Like all of these things, the deal will probably be at the last hour on December 31st.”