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Guest Comment: Am I the only one who thinks London still beats Hong Kong?

In the past six months I have been to China, Korea, Iran and Turkmenistan. In every case the people I’ve dealt with from the business elite either already have a London base, or they want one.

How can this be? London is supposed to be falling off its pedestal as an international financial services centre.

In my experience they value things that we might not perceive in our own capital – its relative safety, for example, and the courtesy of its people, the quality of its housing – at least at the high end of the market – and of course world class healthcare and education – again more at the high end for paying customers; our cultural life. And pretty much every nationality has its own community here – a home from home in a not so foreign land.

So when I hear about banks and hedge funds contemplating relocating overseas, I wonder.

Higher capital requirements, a heavier regulatory hand, more interference and reporting obligations – and of course a ridiculous and counter-productive higher rate income tax band, make a strong logical case for a move to Switzerland or Hong Kong or Dubai.

If you throw enough money around you can find a decent place to live in any of these, as well as reasonable schools, private medicine, and a cultural life that’s not bad, even if it’s not quite London. As to personal safety, Switzerland at least is fine. But the welcome your family gets? You tell me.

The fact is that when you hire a senior investment banker for an international role, you have to hire the whole family – at least in the sense of getting them all on board. In this sense, London sells itself – just ask the 40% of finance professionals working in the Square Mile who come from overseas.

By moving offshore, firms risk losing current talent and future potential recruits. They will be choosing to be where the action isn’t. London rocks. Still. Just.

David Charters is a partner at advisory firm Partner Capital. He was formerly head of equity syndicate at Warburg and Deutsche in London. His latest book, ‘Where Egos Dare’, is published by Elliott and Thompson.

Comments (8)

  1. London has an incredibly high crime rate, is not known for it’s hospitality and is equally as expensive as Asia in terms of cost of living but with the added cost of funding the various handouts the British government provide via income tax. For someone working in finance I am not sure you have done the math before writing this article.

  2. As a consultant I’ve traveled extensively to London, Hong Kong, and Dubai, and Switzerland once. I must say I place the safety of Hong Kong and London on the same level – the judicial system is fair, the police force is competent, and crime rates are low. I’ve never had a problem in Dubai, but there have been some very disturbing stories coming out of there, and certain legal biases in rape cases and sexual assaults do not make me want to move my wife and children there. But I find it simply untrue that Hong Kong would be any more unsafe than London or Switzerland; could the author perhaps provide some examples? As an American whose father once worked in the U.S. Consul in Hong Kong, perhaps I am biased, but I place Hong Kong as one of my favorite cities to visit, as I have had the pleasure of doing, courtesy of McKinsey!

  3. true story – I am working late in Docklands I live in Clapham I get the tube at 9 pm I am physically assualted as I leave Clapham South tube station I can look after myself but there are three of them and they are big, my phone my wallet and my car keys ripped from my person a large blade shown to me encouraged me not to be stupid.

    Prior to that i lived in Hong Kong and Tokyo for 16 years I was never even threatened, Now back in Asia family warmly welcomed and happy will never go back.

    London – you must be kidding

  4. Why do you live in Clapham also…

  5. Although I don’t entirely agree with the article, it’s nice to hear someone speak up for London for once. As a British expat based in Hong Kong, I get sick of the London / UK bashing that I tend to hear from a lot of my fellow countrymen. In my experience they tend to be fairly shallow individuals, solely obsessed with money and trying to keep up with the Beckhams. London is a world-class city, with a diverse and rich culture, including some of the best theatre, live music and art going. If so, why did I leave London and move to HK? Well, to gain some international experience, jump a rung on the career ladder and save some cash ( true, the 15% tax rate is a blessing). HK is an exciting place to be based for a while, but it has it’s downsides too, including chronic pollution, over-crowding, a shortage of decent schools and “less than polite” people. I notice someone else here mentioned the great weather? It’s 34C outside now, with 90% humidity. That aint great in my book and the Typhoon season is coming! In my mind, HK is a great place to be based for mid-career stint. However, I will be returning to London and look forward to the day immensely.

  6. One more thing I forgot to mention. My wife is Chinese and was raised in Shanghai. Although she loves her country and likes Hong Kong, she much prefers life in London, having spent 5 years living there. She’s been lucky to travel a lot in her career, including stints in Taipei (she loves), Seoul (a tough place to live), Hong Kong and 5 years in London. HK is a cut-throat, money obsessed,commercial city, in her view. Great for doing business, but not for living (well, not for too long).

  7. Sean, as a highly paid banker, why were you living in a Clapham, not Chelsea? Did you WANT to be mugged? No one was forcing you to live in a rough neighborhood. Bankers in London have more than enough money to buy themselves out of most/all of the city’s social problems, 50% tax or not – they’re still rich. Don’t feel sorry for London bankers! In fact don’t feel sorry for bankers anywhere, full-stop

  8. london is the best city in the world to live in… if you can afford it.

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