Outgoing Lord Mayor Vincent Keaveny reflects on time in office

Outgoing Lord Mayor Vincent Keaveny reflects on time in office
Credit Clive Totman

As the Square Mile was busy preparing for the Lord Mayor’s Show, Zoe Patterson sat down with outgoing Lord Mayor Vincent Keaveny to discuss his year in office, his ‘People with Purpose’ campaign, impact investment, and the future of the City of London.

Keaveny’s time in office has been focused around growing the global competitiveness of the UK as a world leader in environmental, social and corporate governance and sustainable finance.

He has also been focused on driving social mobility at all levels. Here’s what he had to say before making way for a new Lord Mayor.

What has been your most impactful initiative during your time in office?
There are two things I’m really pleased with in terms of People with Purpose.
On “People,” we’ve managed to achieve a lot this year around social mobility.

We set up a new organisation focused on improving progression within the financial services sector for those coming from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and non-traditional backgrounds.

We launched that in May and the organisation is now up and running with a CEO, board of members and 12 founding partners. It’s had a lot of support across the financial services sector and it’s been an interest of mine going back over 15 years from when I was a graduate recruitment partner at my previous law firm.

The second is on the impact investment in “Purpose”. I was really pleased to host a major event, the Finance for Impact Summit, which is bringing impact investment much more sharply into focus and moving it to the centre of the financial debate.

I think we’ll see a lot more of that over the next couple years, particularly when it comes together with the environmental agenda and COP27. We’re beginning to make a real difference in terms of outcomes and deliverables on these discussions.

What are your predictions for the future of the City of London?

I’m very optimistic. I’ll mention two things: in terms of Brexit, we’re now out of the EU and have been for some time. The financial institutions have taken the steps they need to deal with Brexit and to put the right infrastructure in place.

On top of that, London is the global capital for tech and innovation – and fintech in particular. Last year there was a little over $37 billion of investment in fintech in London.

I’ve spent just over 80 days travelling this year and I’ve seen that the world is looking to London as the international leader in tech, fintech, real estate and finance, which will be key to new developments for the future.

I think with our increased investment in those areas and with the talent we’ve got here, the City has a great future as the world’s most international, leading financial centre.

How can the City of London, and the Lord Mayor in particular, provide stability in what seems to be an ever-shifting political climate?

I hope that now we’re in a situation where we can look forward to a period of stability.

The City would certainly welcome it. Hopefully now we can also focus on some of the key things we want to work with the Government on, including the new Financial Services and Markets Bill that’s going through parliament.

I’m the 693rd Lord Mayor of London. Lord Mayors have sat in this very office since 1752 and there’s not much that a Lord Mayor in this office hasn’t had to deal with. Whether it’s wars, revolutions, financial crises or plagues. This office has seen it all.

We have very strong institutions in the UK, and the Lord Mayor and the City are a very good example of those institutional underpinnings.

In times of instability and market turmoil, I think that institutional strength and stability is really important. It allows you to come through that turmoil and as the markets calm down and we get into calmer waters, the institutions are still there. London will continue to thrive as it has for centuries.

After you’ve left office, how do you see the future of the People with Purpose campaign?
We’re not going to be able to fully address social mobility in financial services in six or 12 months; this is a decade-long project, if not longer. It’s about shifting the thinking in the financial services sector. That will continue.

On the “Purpose” element, my successor Nicholas Lyons will be focusing on financing our future as his key theme for the year ahead. He’s going to be picking up a lot of what I’ve been focusing on with the environmental and social elements of finance.

It’s all about continuity, building on the work I took over from William Russel, Nick will take over for me, and we’ll continue to focus on these issues.

What do you think is the biggest barrier facing those from disadvantaged backgrounds in London? What can individuals and employers do to mitigate this?

That’s a huge question. One of the big issues we have at the moment, which is national but it’s particularly acute in London, is housing. That’s not something that a Lord Mayor or the City Corporation can directly influence, but the City Corporation has been increasing its housing stock and building homes, but we are constrained by the space that’s available to us.

What we can do is put these issues on the table and consider how to finance more social housing and where that financing comes from. That’s been part of my impact investment theme – how we can get long-term capital into financing social housing in the UK.

At the moment, big pension funds and long-term savings providers are limited by regulation and constraints around where they can put money. Too often they can’t put it into socially beneficial projects, which is one of the things I’ve been focusing on this year.

Even more directly, one of the big things we can do is create environments where, irrespective of your background, your talents are recognised and you can thrive. That’s at the heart of the “Purpose” campaign: creating environments where people can not only get their foot in the door but actually have access to the tools they need to climb the career ladder as well. There are so many things we can do and are doing to address this issue.

During your time in office, have you seen a shift in the conversation about mental health in the workplace?

The Lord Mayor’s Appeal has been focused on mental health for several years now, since around 2017.

We took over the green ribbon campaign to build awareness about mental health issues. We have a programme at The Appeal called This is Me, which is a storytelling platform where people talk about their mental health stories, the challenges they face and how their employers have worked to support them. In the last few years I think there’s been a real improvement in employee and employer engagement in this topic.

The conversation around mental health is especially necessary now. If you look at what’s happened over the course of the pandemic, mental health issues have increased significantly. The mental health charities we support directly through the Lord Mayor’s Appeal have had a surge of demand over the last couple years.

Building on the work you’ve done in the last year, what do you hope for your successor to achieve?
I have to congratulate Nicholas on his election as the 694th Lord Mayor. I think he’s going to do great things.

I’m sure you’ll hear more about his theme over the next couple weeks but he’s going to have some very important priorities around financing the future.

There’s a lot of capital to be invested but we need to make sure it’s flowing in the right direction and we’re getting into the right investments. He’s also going to be responding to the cost of living crisis: how we respond to that as an industry.

There’s a lot of positive things coming during his year. A lot of what he’s focusing on aligns with what I’ve been doing and builds on it, which is what the Mayoralty is all about.

It’s about continuity so that each of us, in our own tiny way, leaves the City a little better off than when we started.

For the latest headlines from the City of London and beyond, follow City Matters on TwitterInstagram and LinkedIn.