Leading article: Bowler hats and bankers

Tuesday 11 March 2008 01:00

The trouble with stereotypes is that they are so comfortable we do not tend to notice they have been demolished until rather late in the day. That is what it has been like with the City of London.

Mention the "Square Mile" and older generations will summon to mind bowler-hatted bankers crossing London Bridge. Younger folk will think of Porsches and wine bars. Either way, in the popular imagination, the City of London has long meant finance.

But the problem is that finance has had other ideas. Many investment banks and corporate law firms have moved east to Docklands. As we report today, Credit Suisse is considering a move to the West End. The hedge fund boys have mostly set up shop in Mayfair. At this rate of exodus, all that will be left in the City is the Bank of England, the "Old Lady of Threadneedle Street", and she's not really a proper bank anyway.

Of course that is a slight exaggeration. The Square Mile is still home to Lloyd's insurance market, the London Stock Exchange and hundreds of financial institutions. But at the same time, it is increasingly clear that the City is no longer the beating heart of the financial services industry that it once was.

To which, the only rational response can be a shrug. To expect sentimental attachment from the money men was never realistic. And the City can at least console itself that, like Fleet Street, its name will always be associated with an industry, even if the masters of the universe have relocated to more amenable climes.

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