Dwindling bank profits may be the death knell for City jollies

Steve Sedgwick
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Wimbledon may be a lovely day out – but is it worth thousands of pounds a head? (Source: Getty)

So how about Centre Court tickets, a stay at a top hotel in Wimbledon Village, and a couple of lovely meals thrown in? All on the house, of course. Just call it relationship building between an appreciative City of London institution and its valuable client.

Ordinarily it would be a no-brainer. “Of course we’d love to come, and very kind of you to invite the wife too,” being the standard response. Just one of the many perks of City life, no?

It’s not just the characters from 1970s cult British TV sitcom The Good Life – Jerry and Margo Leadbetter – who would recognise this scenario being played out on the London summer corporate social scene. Just look at the huge City sponsorship of the Chelsea Flower Show, the cricket Test Match at Lord’s and, of course, Wimbledon and you can see how integral a part of doing business it’s become.

But cracks may be appearing in the old way of doing business. And a cocktail, not Pimms, but of other more worrying spirits means the old corporate freebies and jollies are potentially on the wane and the corporate boxes will perhaps be a little bit thinner this year.

On the one hand, City profits are being hit left right and centre, client activity levels are being scythed, and “client enticement and retention” budgets are also under pressure. In addition, the hoops that a client has to jump through to accept anything that could be “misinterpreted” by compliance and legal teams as a bribe to direct business one way or another are getting higher and becoming a bit too much to bother for many.

Read more: Corporate hospitality: The secret to getting it right

That said, with all the “career trades” going on in the City this year – i.e. last chance saloon punts – who cares whether you go out in a blaze of champagne and smoked salmon canapes? Er, quite a few bosses these days, that’s who, especially at the prices being touted for a little corporate shindig.

And yet the prices are still eye-popping.

Looking at one website offering Wimbledon deals, I note the men’s final match is being offered for up to around £4,000 a pop, plus VAT, and that’s the average.

Take ten guests and all of a sudden that’s quite a decent chunk of commission, which just isn’t forthcoming from nervy investors these days.

Elsewhere, the first day of England’s Test Match against Pakistan at Lord’s has a “captain’s table” package which looks pretty cheap by comparison, with prices starting at £629 per head. Mind you, I suppose that depends on which former England captain is your host and whether his banter is up to scratch.

And fancy living the “Viva la Vida” with rock band Coldplay at Wembley this week, with “urban street food” thrown in as the pre-show buffet? Then the Kaleidoscope hospitality package is for you at £359 per head.

The fact is that jobs are being taken out in the City and Canary Wharf as business levels and profitability drop.

Perhaps it’s amazing that there is still enough going on to justify some of the prices mentioned above for one more hurrah. But I, for one, sense the days of trips to Chamonix, St Andrews and the like may be on the backburner for many for quite a while.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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