Friday, 24 October 2014

Weekly Wrap Up: The Angel of the North is Burning Bright

We often hear rumours that there is more going on up North than Gail Platt simply taking a new love interest on ‘Coronation Street’; this week has been a case in point.

There have been multiple indications that the economic potential of the North is booming. These indications have inspired us to ask ourselves: should we be making a better job of tapping into the North so as to maintain our position as a dominant force in the global economy?

Numis Securities, one of the City’s most successful independent stockbrokers, have opened up a Northern office, to be headed up by Graeme Summers. This makes complete sense, as one of their main rivals, Zeus Capital, is currently one of the only brokers operating in both the City and the North. Zeus has successfully raised £900 million for its clients over the past 15 months, and has been the book runner on 40% of all of the AIM flotations in that period. Clearly Numis have caught a whiff of Zeus’ sweet Northern success, and are wisely following suit. This move indicates that if the advisers are heading North, there must be attractive and economically proficient Companies growing businesses in the UK’s Northern cities.

And where did one of the only IPOs to successfully get away in the last few months come from? C4X Discovery is a Manchester-based University spin-out which successfully raised £11 million on its AIM debut. This raise is not bad in the current economic climate, with just the week before seeing the stalled IPOs of Virgin Money, Aldermore and BCA Marketplace due to volatility in global equity markets.

So why is it that we still consider the Northern cities as secondary to London? The Government is making efforts to change this, as they realise that the UK is more attractive if considered by our international brethren as having not just one city with potential, but rather a constellation of burgeoning centres of business. Nick Clegg’s launch of TechNorth, the tech cluster designed to rival London’s Tech City shows a desire to encourage innovation throughout the UK.

But it’s not just about taking advantage of this potential, we must also do a better job of communicating it. The Guardian published an interesting article this week stating that it’s the public perception, branding and positioning of the North that needs to change. Several valid points are made; constantly referring to multiple cities as ‘The North’ positions the likes of Manchester, Newcastle, Birmingham and Liverpool as one and the same. They are very different environments, with different histories and different strengths. Perhaps if we were to identify and acknowledge this then perceptions would change. Referring to ‘The North’ also invokes the feeling that these cities are on the peripheries, slightly removed from the action. This lack of connectivity can only harm common perceptions.

Angel of the North
Image courtesy of James Creegan, Flickr CC
I’m not sure that rebranding the collection of Cities as ‘ManPool’ or even ‘ManSheffLeedsPool’ would help, as Jim O’Neill suggested in the City Growth Commission report this week. But surely it would be easier to communicate the economic potential both domestically and internationally if we readdress how we position and brand them. The UK will not be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with international competitors, powered by multiple megacities, if we are left clinging on to the attributes of our singular ‘hub’. Surely a constellation of these ‘hubs’ is more attractive to investors and we would be better off nurturing the perception of a hive of activity.

This week Abchurch met the Kerman & Co team and exchanged our credentials in the various sectors that we both operate in, particularly in the mining space. We were warmed by the team’s hospitality and were delighted to be hosted in their very own Temple Bar.

Abchurch also hosted a China- themed market lunch and enjoyed a heated debate amongst City Advisors on the strategies of London-listed Chinese Companies going forward. Despite recent nuances, it is exciting to see that advisors are generally confident on the outlook of the Chinese Companies' equities market.

Jonathan Richards has been appointed equity research analyst in Cantor Fitzgerald Europe’s Financial Institutions team. Richards joins from Bank of America Merrill Lynch, and has previously worked at UBS and Lehman Brothers.

Marc Tendler and Bas Hoekstra join Grant Thornton’s adviser specialist leasing, asset and consumer financing division. Tendler, an accountant, has worked in senior roles at Invigors, UK Vendor and Captive Asset Finance, and ING Lease UK. Hoekstra was also previously at ING Lease Holding, where he held a leadership role.

Investec Wealth & Investment has announced two appointments to its Bournemouth office. Darren Elmes and Steve Hart both join as senior investment directors from Barclays Wealth, where they were directors. Elmes has also held roles at Lloyds Private Banking and Capel Cure Sharp.

'ManSheffLeedsPool’ – The suggestion of Jim O’Neill, Former Goldman Sachs economist and Chair of the City Growth Commission, for the rebranding of our Northern treasures

Do you miss the Dandy; do you yearn for Dr Strange? This weekend sees ExCel London at the Royal Victoria Dock being turned into a comic lover’s feast with the arrival of MCM London Comic Con. This two day event is predicted to attract 100,000 comic fans from across the world to celebrate all that is great about this artistic medium. Visitors can expect memorabilia, photos with the starts and special guests.

Looking for a slightly more gentile experience? The London BluesFest is due to open this Sunday 26th at the Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gore. This festival will run for six days, and will include performances from all of the best starts in blues, soul, jazz, R&B and beyond. Whilst the venue may send out vibes of expense, tickets for this festival can be purchased from as little as £17.25.

Halloween is on the horizon, and it is not just the ghouls and goblins that we should be afraid of. This Sunday 26th, hundreds of devilishly dressed dogs will take to the streets of Hampstead in the Devilish Dog Walk, a fund-raising event hosted by All Dogs Matter and Spaniards Inn. This walk will kick off at 10:30am and those brave enough to see their pups in Halloween attire can enter the walk at £5 a go.

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Friday, 17 October 2014

Weekly Wrap Up: The Communications of Switching

This week saw a new figure hit the headlines: 1.2 million people have switched their current accounts since September 2013.

This comes one year on from the launch of the Government’s scheme to encourage consumers to switch their banking current accounts by reducing the time that it takes to switch bank accounts from 30 days to just seven.

As detailed in the Payment Council’s annual report, switching levels are up 22% on last year, with some banks winning new customers - Halifax, Santander and Nationwide - and some, inevitably, losing customers - NatWest, Barclays, HSBC and Lloyds.

This rise in consumer switching has been hailed as a success story of a scheme that is going to plan, or so according to George Osborne.

There are many benefits that have been discussed as rising from the growth of consumers switching their current accounts:
1) Accountability: The Daily Mail has suggested that this switching is the public’s way of “punishing” the banks for the mistakes of pre and post-2008
2) Competitive rates: In order to woo potential new customers and to retain existing customers, banks are now offering more customers more competitive rates and incentives
 3) Entrepreneurialism: With increased switching comes the opportunity for new companies to appear and succeed. This has been seen in the banking industry with so-called “challenger banks”, and is also being seen in the energy industry with the growth of alternative energy providers

So to what can we attribute this switching?

The most obvious answer is the governmental support that this scheme has received; a call to action from the powers that be which made headlines by suggesting that consumers deserve better.

But we in the communications industry would like to suggest that another big reason as to why the scheme was so well received is the act of communicating itself, both online and in the press. Whereas previously it was more likely that “a man would divorce his wife than switch his bank account”, due to the fact that it was unheard of and very difficult to switch, this scheme has not only made it easier but also more common for bank customers to question the product that they have been receiving and to look around at other options.

Whilst some have said that this 1.2 million is a modest figure, the BBC reported that 69% of consumers are now aware that they have the ability to switch due to the launch of the scheme.

This scheme has come at a time when consumer understanding and empowerment is of utmost importance. Whether that be regarding current accounts, energy bills or phone tariffs, consumers are now being given the necessary information and comparison tools to take more control over their own finances and help them live their lives more efficiently. Consumer price comparison websites such as have become hugely popular in recent years for just this reason, as have debates about preferred providers on social media.

The communications industry sits at the heart of this new information era, with information about new schemes and alternative providers being disseminated through national, trade and technical press, as well as through websites and social media. Companies seeking to ensure that their voice is still heard and that their commercial and financial case is still shared must therefore be keen and willing to engage with communications so as to ensure that they are not on the losing side of the market. Companies must also learn to listen and respond to the comments of their customers or face losing them to competitors.

In years gone by, customer switching and the need for communication were not in the mind of the corporate. Today, however, customers are on the lookout and companies must fight (and shout) to keep them…

The cold may be setting in but Abchaps are still out and about! We met up with some of our favourite journalists at Bloomberg and Dow Jones this week to get their take on the somewhat ‘choppy’ markets. We also caught up with the team at Daniel Stewart over a few glasses at our favourite local. We work very closely with a number of their team, and so it was fantastic so get everyone together again.

Investec has hired Christian Hess to head its financial sponsor transaction group. Christian was previously a partner at Compass Partners and the founder of Hess & Co International. Warren Mead has been appointed the head of challenger banking and alternative finance at KPMG, where he worked for 15 years. Robin Baillie has joined law firm Squire Patton Boggs as a global projects and real estate partner. Robin was previously a partner at Nabarro.

"Uswitch": an energy price comparison website helping consumers find the best energy deals on the market. Websites such as these heavily drive consumer switching

Frieze London, the contemporary art fair, is taking place in Regents Park.  Frieze is expected to draw in the world’s rich and famous and it is anticipated that they will spend millions on different works. The art fair has gained enormous popularity of recent years but the organisers have capped admission to 70,000 over the course of the event as it is unable to expand. The nearby illustrious and plush streets of Marylebone and Mayfair are expected be net gainers of the elite who will pile into its restaurants, cafes and hotels. 

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