David Buik is a businessman and financial pundit for the BBC and other British, American and Australian television channels. You may know him as a wise and likeable Twitter personality. David started work at Philip Hill Higginson Erlangers in the City of London. He later worked for RP Martin, Kirkland Whitaker, London Deposit Agencies, Money Market Agencies, MY Marshall, and City Index Group. The companies he has worked from time to time have involved financial spread betting. He worked for Cantor Index and BGC Partners from 1999 to 2011. David has appeared as a financial pundit on the BBC, Bloomberg Television, CNN International and ABC News (Australia). David was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2016 New Year Honours for services to financial services. Here Country Squire Magazine’s Editor, Dominic Wightman, interviews David about The City, Brexit and changing times.
DW: David, we are honoured to have you here on Country Squire Magazine. The first question I have for you is do you prefer the old days in the City – the long lunches and free-flowing alcohol – or these days where technology has rather sterilised proceedings?
DB: My moderate successes between 1962 and 2000 could never have been achieved in today’s intensely competitive environment that prevails in the financial services industry within the City of London. A slew of good fortune such the advent of the Euro Dollar market in 60s and 70s, the abolition of exchange controls in 1980, which told the world that London was open for business, the Thatcher privatisation programme, the change in taxation culture in 1984-1986 from 83% to 40%, culminating with ‘Big Bang’ in 1986 is unlikely ever to be replicated. People are very much better educated than my generation. I also think the City is one of the few places that has generated a fairer society. Ability carries you significantly further than it did 40 years ago. With my lack of qualifications, I would never have crossed the threshold of any major bank or broker for an interview let alone a job!
Also, regulatory controls, post the 2008/9 financial crisis, are understandably very tough. So, the ability to set up a competitive financial services operation would at best, be extremely challenging. The long alcohol driven lunches were a means to an end in 70s & 80s. Financial services were very embryonic, so the opportunities were in plentiful supply and no better way to capture business than lunch in a convivial atmosphere. All I was ever endowed with were decent interpersonal skills. That way of life is now redundant. There is no lunch – just dinner and infrequently as well, taken care of by the rules of the FCA. I doubt I would have even made it to base one in the City today. I have much to be grateful for, though I do believe that life was much more of a blast then, than it has been since 1986. The remuneration packages have been, in many case eye-watering, since then. However, society has changed in culture and I am less than convinced that I would have been as happy now as I was then. I never was a great mover and shaker, but there were always opportunities at all levels for ‘City’ operators to excel.
DW: A myriad of characters comprise The City. I think of the de Zoetes, Ana Botin and Bob Diamond – just to name a few. Who has most impressed you over the years?
DB: The names you have mentioned were clearly colossuses of their day, but they never crossed my path. There is a compendium of candidates that not only command respect and admiration, but there are also others, who for many varying reasons, were not mainstream, but nonetheless left their mark on financial society. Of the great city luminaries, I probably would single out Sir David Scholey, who oversaw SG Warburg’s very considerable success in M&A activity, which was rampant in the 80s and 90s. I also much admired David Mayhew, the senior partner of Cazenove and Co, who ‘cocked a snook’ at all the US and European predators ahead of ‘big bang’, dismissing their overtures and he was right to do so. From my own stable of money broking and inter-broker-dealer, Michael Spencer, the flamboyant and innovator of bond and derivative trading at ICAP and Nex, stands alone – different league from his peers.
DW: You witnessed the Big Bang. Was there ever a more exciting time in your time in The City?
DB: Speaking personally, the abolition of exchange controls in 1980 was a far more symbolic date. London told the world come and do business here without currency restrictions. The decision by Thatcher, Lawson and Joseph and Parkinson was inspirational. ‘Big Bang’ was very significant, but that took time to feel the real benefits.
DW: What was the blackest time in your experience of The City?
DB: There were two. Firstly losing 658 colleagues from Cantor Fitzgerald in the World Trade Center in 9/11 will be indelibly with me for the rest of my life. So very proud to have seen the company re-build its business in New York from the smouldering ashes.
Like many others I was very sad to see a very few very greedy and reckless people attempt to destroy the reputation of the City – a huge earner for the UK over many decades – aided and abetted by soft regulation and the propensity of government, companies and consumers, who found borrowing too much money an indulgence they could not resist.
DW: Are we likely to see another crash soon?
DB: You can never say never, but the regulators seem more on top of their game than they have ever been.
DW: You are a Brexiteer. Why?
DB: Yes I am! and in the City that is an endangered species. I voted leave as I have seen very little positive come out of the EU in recent years. Our membership is too costly, and we get very little out of it and I dislike the idea of the UK paying for other peoples’ economic inadequacies. The EU is slowly unveiling itself as a busted flush. It is the only continent, whose growth is not expanding dramatically. Why would I want to tie myself down with 28 countries to their laws and regulations? Once an EU law always a law. It would not be possible to change mistakes, as you need 28 signatories. Getting rid of the ECJ is the most important issue and being allowed to decide our own destiny. I don’t buy defence and security. We have NATO and as to security, when we needed Germany’s support against Syria, the silence was deafening. Germany like most countries is pragmatic. Also, the idea of federalism appals me. It’ll be tough for a few years, but I am confident about the future!
DW: After Project Fear dominated the UK media with talk of “Little London” in Frankfurt, Merkel and Macron threatening to steal business and European financial centres hoping to feast on London’s Euro contracts, there has recently been a sea change – notably Bundesbank leader Andreas Dombret admitting bankers do not want to leave London. How do you read the situation?
DB: I have been saying this for over two years up and down the country. Project Fear was a huge mistake. London is the international centre in the universe – best legal and accountancy advice in the world. The best deal makers love coming to the UK to pedal their financial wares. Frankfurt is a ‘Mickey Mouse Town’ of 750k people and Paris is number 29 in the pecking order. Here in the UK we are not Little Englanders! We are very outward looking and international and encompassing European countries to our bosom.
DW: What are the big opportunities for The City post-Brexit?
DB: There is a huge world out there! Out of the House of Bondage’s shackles (EU) and its protective behaviour. London has 70 years of infrastructure and success. The EU will have their work cut out to take it away from us and it will cost these financial institutions a ‘King’s Ransom’ to do so. It should not happen. London’s track record is second to none and we should not forget that London is the centre of the time zone – hugely important.
DW: You are a growing Twitter personality. Doesn’t Twitter drive you up the wall? How do you put up with the bonkers brigade on there and the dreadful trolls tap-tapping from their dusty attics?
DB: I try to be focused, rather than obsessive. I use it for news – quicker than the wires. I block all unpleasantness and swearing. When I am no longer involved in markets I shall give it up willingly!
DW: I note that you are a loyal Fulham football fan. Very brave. Do you enjoy escaping to the countryside? Do you fish or shoot?
DB: I love the countryside for the peace and tranquillity it offers, but I’m not really at home with its pursuits. We had a cottage in Norfolk for many years but at heart I am an urban dweller. Fulham is a passion. I love being a hooligan under the disguise of a gentleman! I am also passionate about my NH Racing. I still yearn for the days I had Grand National runners with my wife and friends – Course Hunter and Bartres.
DW: Finally, David, let me ask you for your most memorable TV moment. Was there a presenter you didn’t get on with? Perhaps an occasion where everything went south?
DB: I never spoke to any difficult interviewers. Kay Burley of Sky, Simon McCoy of BBC and Richard Quest of CNN were challenging but always courteous. I made one comment that was used for years by SKY after a blip at LIFFE – words to the effect – “Gracious me New York opens before London!”
DW: We Squires thank you so much for the interview. Best of luck for the future, David.