James Moore: Time for brokers to raise games

Outlook: For a long time Britain's smaller stockbrokers have operated an extraordinarily successful business model.

It involved fattening up their operations to the best of their abilities so that they could sell out to overseas operations (who felt they just had to have some sort of presence in London) at the opportune moment. The fact that those operations would all too often make a mess of their new playthings really didn't matter too much to anyone (at least not in the City).

That's because the best brokers would quietly quit, with their pockets stuffed full of the new owner's cash, only to resurface a few months later at other sprightly, fast-growing operations just waiting to find overseas buyers of their own.

The trouble is the foreigners' cupboards are now bare. The financial crisis has just about done for them. Those still here desperately want out, but they're stuck. Battered Belgian bank KBC has had poor old Peel Hunt on the block for months, with nothing to show for it.

But there might be a real benefit to be drawn from this for Great Britain plc. The brokers are going to be on their own for a long time to come. Which means that to prosper, and reward their staff in the manner to which they have become accustomed, they are going to have to concentrate on providing the best possible broking services to the network of small and medium-sized companies that they should have been looking after while touting for buyers. Companies which frequently need the help of good corporate financiers, but which too often struggle to find it.

If the financial crisis means these businesses – so vital to the UK economy – get a better deal from their brokers then that would be a silver lining on the dark cloud of the downturn.