With a new government in place, it won’t be long before Prime Minister Cameron and his team of ministers start to jet off across the globe to key international markets. India, China, Brazil and the Gulf States will be the most likely countries to see a British Airways plane land on the tarmac in the coming months with business executives in tow, resulting in numerous trade deals signed and a host of commercial partnerships agreed.
Having been to India and the Gulf, I will be visiting China and Brazil later this year. But today I’m in one of those markets – Sri Lanka – which attracts less attention from foreign investors, but which is starting to catch the City’s eye.
With President Sirisena coming to power in January on a platform of prioritising good governance, change is underway in Sri Lanka. We could be looking at the start of new strategic trade opportunities in the country and the wider region.
My visit, which is followed by trips to Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, will see me speaking with government officials, regulators and central banks on the usual topics: how to build a closer partnership with the Square Mile; how our world class firms have expertise in many areas of finance, from raising capital and asset management to Islamic finance, to name but a few; and how we want to increase foreign investment to the UK.
But one of the other areas where I will be extolling our expertise and experience is in the field of education, training and qualifications. A particular focus is professional qualifications – from accountancy to actuary, legal services to asset management – which are a model copied around the world.
Take as an example the statistic that Sri Lanka has more Chartered Institute of Management Accountants and Chartered Institute of Marketing qualified students than any other country apart from the UK. Closer partnerships between our professional qualification programmes and markets like Sri Lanka is something I am always looking to champion.
This is not just with my lord mayor hat on, but also as chairman of the globally renowned Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment (CISI). These qualifications can help upskill the domestic workforce, facilitate the development of the financial and professional services industries, and equip the economy with a deep pool of talented, qualified and knowledgeable employees.
Partnership initiatives will be top of the agenda during my visit – and not just in Sri Lanka. As Indonesia’s middle class grows rapidly, its education sector is expanding at a similar rate. In Malaysia, meanwhile, I will mark a partnership between HELP University in Kuala Lumpur and the CISI that provides training and coaching to those looking to work in the wealth management area. Given that, in the recent OECD school rankings, Singapore once again topped the table in maths and science, this leg of the visit will very much be of the fact-finding kind.
The simple fact is that everyone in the financial services industry faces the same challenge – finding skilled workers. Anything which supports young professionals accessing high-quality, internationally-recognised accreditation is a positive step forward. One could argue that such initiatives are as important as the commercial deals that we commonly associate with trade visits overseas.