As the current phase of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union (EU) boils down to a conclusion, UK and foreign-based businesses crave the certainty of a managed transition. The prospect of friction caused by the abrupt introduction of new layers of customs duties and regulatory compliance is anathema to manufacturers that are reliant on complex cross-border supply chains. Meticulously stripped of excess and waste, wafer-thin profit margins can be maintained only when production processes are free to operate at maximum efficiency.
The withdrawal agreement negotiated between the UK and EU goes some way to shielding such manufacturers from the abrasive impact of a customs union departure. In contrast, however, the agreement offers comparatively little in the way of managed continuity for the UK’s muscular services sector. On the cusp of such significant change, the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan (BCCJ) provided members with an opportunity last month to hear directly from the Lord Mayor of the City of London, Peter Estlin. Speaking at the BCCJ, he highlighted the deep strength and capabilities of the UK’s financial and professional services sector—especially in growth areas such as fintech and green finance, where London and Tokyo collaborate closely under a Memorandum of Understanding signed in December 2017.
In quantitative terms, global management consulting and professional services firm Accenture reports that, as a pioneer in Open Banking, London was destination to 56% of all European investment in fintech in 2018, which translates to a 50% increase in year-on-year UK fintech investment to more than $3.9bn. Over the same period, fintech investment in Japan surged fivefold from a smaller base to $500mn.
In addition to promoting digital innovation, the lord mayor also spoke in support of equality and inclusion. These matters were top of mind as we marked International Women’s Day on 8 March and look ahead to the W20 summit on 23–24 March. Tasked with making policy recommendations relating to women to the G20, the W20 is co-chaired by Haruno Yoshida, former vice-chair of the Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) Board of Councillors.
To learn more about the W20 agenda, in February the BCCJ joined with the Swedish Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Japan to host a knowledge-sharing event attended by business leaders. Of the female leaders present, I am fortunate to have had the chance to work with two of them: Yoshida, whose former roles include the chief executive position at BT Japan Corporation, and Suzanne Price, renowned consultant in diversity and inclusion at Price Global. The opportunity to collaborate had been through our respective roles as elected members of the BCCJ’s executive committee (Excom).
This reminds me of the benefits—collective and personal—that can be gained from committing active participation in a chamber of commerce. I, therefore, urge all BCCJ members to make a commitment not only to event participation, but also to participation in the BCCJ’s governance. I hope that many of you will consider exercising your vote in the election that follows.