Tony Burke - one of the wise men in the city was paid a visit by Liza Veta to talk about the changes in finance over the last 40 years, and of course Tony’s life. Tony started his career in the ‘70s on the floor of the LSE as a “stockjobber“ and was made an “individual“ member of the LSE in 1985. Tony has 40+ years experience leading the charge in both established and emerging investment firms.
What are your most exciting work positions that you have held during your time being in finance? Why were they memorable for you?
I have been very lucky, having had a career spanning 43 years in capital markets - 36 of which have been running and in many cases, owning firms in the investment sector - I can honestly say that all of the positions I have held over the years have been memorable, and for the most part, enjoyable.
To me there are three ‘main’ reasons why I have committed myself happily to maintaining my career in the financial sector.
The first is that no one day is ever the same. The global balance of business, finance and economics changes every day what makes it so fast-paced and varied. And when one adds in the adrenalin rush of deal making and the buzz of the trading floor, the industry has, and continues to provide me with a highly stimulating and satisfying career.
Second is my curious nature that has led me to explore both ‘buy’ and ‘sell’ sides of the business.
And third - and to me the most important - financial services is a people business, even if computers seem to be taking over.
Over 40 years ago a mentor said to me “remember, the assets of our company walk out of the door each night.” The financial sector sometimes gets a bad ‘rap’ yet it hosts some of the nicest and most generous of people.
What are the biggest changes regarding the diversity during your time in the City?
Working on the floor of the London Stock Exchange back in the late 1970s, one of my senior colleagues pointed to a lady and said to me, “look, she was the first woman to become a member of the London Stock Exchange.”
That was a statement that shocked me even then, especially as I come from a single parent background where I watched my mother push for equal rights and forge for herself an admirable and impressive career through the 1970s.
I am proud of the fact that I was able to champion and then implement one of the first equality and diversity programmes in the City of London, and at a firm that eventually became an industry leader in gender equality.
What possible problems will investment banks face in the near future?
The impact of Brexit. It is reported that the 10 largest investment banks in the UK have spent more than £1 Billion on their Brexit plans. Business owners would of course always prefer certainty, something not always available in life.
Businesses and markets do require clarity in order to plan ahead. And currently there is no clarity as to the how the draft terms for equivalence gained by the Government last November might work, and whether the next round of negotiations might weaken the City.
My own personal concern is that it has proved much harder to increase productivity in the services industries, yet services in the UK account for a much larger proportion of output than manufacturing, fuelling the debate as to whether we are getting the full benefits of the IT revolution.
What are three biggest changes in financial infrastructure that occurred during last 43 years of your time in the City?
The biggest change by far - for me - was termed the ‘Big Bang.’ This was one of the most cataclysmic happenings in financial markets ever. It was for me, my colleagues at our little ‘jobbing’ firm, and the City of London as a whole, truly life changing.
This change heralded a series of technical reforms to the rules governing the City of London the impact of which can not be underestimated.
The City was literally transformed overnight, the course of global finance changed, with the process throwing open the City to free-market principles. And it paved the way for London to become the World’s leading financial centre.
Finance is indeed different these days. The ‘mechanics’ used in transacting business - whether that be in capital markets or in doing one’s everyday shopping - have changed dramatically, with the focus being on the use of technology to speed up the transaction process.
Opening the markets up to technology meant telephones and fax machines in 1986. And now it stands for high frequency and algorithmic trading, and consumer banking and financial transactions utilising direct access through the internet, and more often via ‘apps’.
Since the financial crisis of 2008 the banks are much more closely regulated and better funded than they were before the crisis. They are probably trusted a little more in the last few years, but they are not liked.
A wise mentor once said to me: “the contract of trust is the basis of a strong brand”. Trust - and consequently the reputation of the entire financial services industry - is being addressed, slowly but surely, through the changes being made within the industry to the culture of the deal making and trading, not only in the City of London, but in all Global financial centres.