Whisper it softly, but there’s a dark secret among London business executives.
For all they’ve liked to tell themselves they can’t do deals without lavish lunches, City dinners and business-class flights, during four months of lockdown, they’ve done more than ever.
Take the City’s bankers and brokers. Since March, they’ve arranged more billions of pounds and dollars in equity and debt for clients than ever before.
Practically every corporate you can think of has scrambled to raise funds in one way or another. Each bond or rights issue has required a phalanx of bankers, brokers, lawyers, accountants. Not to mention the investors providing the cash.
Normally, you’d have the company’s management and advisers traipsing around the capital cities of the Western world to sell the vision and drum up support. They’d spend weeks and hundreds of thousands of pounds in expenses in the process.
Now, they’ve learned it was all totally unnecessary.
As one of Canary Wharf’s top investment bankers wails: “I’m longing for a nice long haul flight with a glass of champagne, but I don’t know if we’re ever going to need them again.”
The old truism about face-to-face meetings was that you need to look your counterpart in the eye before you spit and shake on a deal. But in reality, my banker friend admits, even with new contacts he’s never met before, he’d formed over Zoom and Teams the kind of bond he’d thought only a Michelin-starred dinner could provide.
Digital technology has changed the world through Covid. Business travel and expenses will return, but to nowhere near the levels of old.
And with that will go the millions of jobs that rely on them in hotels, restaurants, aviation and entertainment.
Today’s jobs figures were surprisingly benign. Don’t expect that to last.