Mikaela Belcher and Hugo Le Ridou, Reed Smith Trainee Solicitors
The City’s best resource is its people. Although we are now able to work from anywhere, anytime, businesses remain willing to invest heavily in offices in the City due to the rich interconnections and expertise available within the Square Mile.
As incoming trainee solicitors at Reed Smith LLP, a Global 20 law firm, we partnered with the City of London Corporation to find out how face-to-face interactions contribute to the City’s competitive edge on a global scale.
We conducted twelve interviews with professionals working within financial, legal, and professional services in the City; our findings are outlined below.
- The importance of the Square Mile for sharing knowledge and accessing global talent.
Participants all stressed the importance of having a ‘City location’ to attract talent, host partners, and meet clients. The client-focused nature and complexities inherent to financial and professional services made networking events and informal encounters valuable for city businesses. Face-to-face contact in the Square Mile allows for a “freer exchange of ideas” and making complex and nuanced points that might be lost on paper.
Interviewees were overwhelmingly positive about the City’s network, feeling that there was always a trusted advisor moments away. This connectivity fosters strong inter-firm knowledge sharing and was also seen to be a catalyst for career development in the City: many interviewees had found jobs through their City networks and more senior workers had built a ‘City Career’ thanks to this.
- Business opportunities are still created through proximity and face-to-face contact
These formal and informal face-to-face interactions in the City generate new business opportunities. Not only does a City location lend a certain prestige and credibility to a business, interviewees were more likely to interact with firms, professional networks, and clients that hosted events in direct proximity.
Events and meetings hosted in the City, were seen as more convenient and therefore were more likely to attract participants than events outside the Square Mile. At such events, “new business relationships can arise just from people meeting you for a short period of time, for example very often people get in touch after attending a talk or presentation where you were presenting. It’s not about the knowledge necessarily … but about the person themselves.”
- Face-to-face contact helps build trust in the business relationship
Face-to-face contact with business partners was always interviewees’ preferred way of understanding a client’s needs, deepening the relationship, and understanding complex ideas. As one interviewee put it, “you never know what somebody actually wants until you sit face-to-face with them with an example of what you’re going to produce.” Regular face-to-face contact brings a personal element and a deeper understanding of business needs into client services, which gave participants “a much better working relationship”.
Face-to-face relationship management was also seen - across different industries - as the principal way for firms to differentiate themselves from their competitors, who on paper might offer similar services: “The key differentiators are who you trust, and who you think can pull a deal through.”
The City’s best resource is its people. This ecosystem relies on the network of related businesses and industries that operate here. The City of London Corporation is currently undertaking an extensive programme of interviews, polling and research to deepen the understanding of the specific and distinct business advantages of locating in London – and more broadly in the UK – and the reasons why clients choose to use the world-leading FPS & tech services based here. This programme of work will highlight how the City is continuing as the global hub for financial and professional services.