The IFSC should invest time in planning its future

The Government has set a target of creating 10,000 jobs in the centre by 2016

Since its inception, the IFSC has been a big success story for Ireland. Photograph: Alan Betson

Since its inception, the IFSC has been a big success story for Ireland. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Yesterday, about 130 people turned out at the impressive new Marker Hotel in Dublin for the third annual conference hosted by the Federation of International Banks in Ireland.

FIBI is a cosy club representing mostly IFSC-based banks in Ireland and operates as a subset of the Irish Banking Federation. IFSC-style banking (covering funds administration, securitisation, treasury and so on) is a mystery to most people and FIBI tends to fly under the radar.

Yet the activities of the various financial groups based in the IFSC is hugely important to Ireland Inc and it has been identified as a potential generator of employment over the coming years.

Since its inception, the IFSC has been a big success story for Ireland. Wealthy financier Dermot Desmond sold the idea to then taoiseach Charlie Haughey, who framed legislation and tax breaks to allow its launch in 1987.


Major employer
Today, it employs about 32,700 people across more than 500 companies and houses the activities of some of the biggest financial players in the world, including Citi, BNY Mellon, Pioneer Investments and JP Morgan. It is estimated to contribute about €2 billion annually to the Irish exchequer. The Government has set a target of creating 10,000 new jobs in the IFSC by 2016. In July, the IDA told me that it was “on track” to meet its target.

The IDA said that between January 2011 and June of this year it had won more than 70 investments that will bring 7,300 jobs into the international financial services sector, of which a “significant proportion” have gone to the IFSC.

Not everything is rosy in the garden. A trend has emerged in the past couple of years of banking licences being handed back while others have scaled back their operations. There is also a growing debate here as to the future direction of the IFSC.

An internal paper produced in the Department of Finance last year stated that the “offering” of the IFSC needs a “radical rethink” and highlighted a drift in banking jobs due to the collapse of the global financial sector in 2008.

The position paper, compiled by Neil Ryan, the chief risk officer in the department, recommended relaunching the IFSC brand, better marketing by the various agencies that promote the centre, and a targeted approach to attracting jobs.

It said the advisory and asset-management sector can continue to grow with a “proper, well-thought-out plan”.

It highlighted aircraft leasing as a potential sector for growth and suggested co-investment in indigenous funds by the State, following the Singapore model.

At the May meeting of the Clearing House Group, Martin Fraser, secretary general of the Department of An Taoiseach, said the strategy for the financial services centre was now a few years old and tracking its implementation may have become an issue. Fraser said something had to be done about this.

What can we do? Should we focus on new area of activity? Or should we diversify into a range of other activities?


Bruton speech
At the FIBI conference yesterday, former taoiseach John Bruton, who is currently president of IFSC Ireland, a lobby group representing the companies there, said diversity was the “course to follow”.

He argued that new areas of opportunity could include clearing and settlement, collateral and risk management, green and Islamic finance, and compliance.

“Just as Ireland has become a centre of excellence in the fields of aircraft leasing and fund administration in the past, we should seek to become a centre of excellence in compliance and risk management in the future,” Bruton argued. “The IDA and our universities are already putting funds behind R&D in finance and this is a basis to build on.”

In arguing for diversity, Bruton said Ireland was a country of “opportunists”. “I don’t think Ireland can be planned . . . it just goes against our nature”.

He’s right of course, which is the depressing bit. A lack of planning has cost us dearly in many strands of Irish life, notably the planning of our towns and cities, which is a mess. How about the HSE as a case study in bad planning?

Our laissez-faire attitude towards financial regulation in the past decade has cost us €64 billion to date.

Some rigid structure might be exactly what’s needed for the IFSC to succeed into the future.

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