Today, EEF hosted a breakfast seminar on the future of finance in the UK.
Our central question was whether we had the right financial architecture to provide long-term capital to growing companies. The answer was resounding no.
Our first speaker, the Rt Hon. John McFall, Chairman of the influential Treasury Select Committee, said quite simply:
"The British banking architecture is not fit for purpose. To achieve growth, we need to get on with reforming the banking system and the there is a clear case for government to intervene directly to invest in creditworthy businesses and individuals. Without this the recovery of the private sector will be impaired in the longer term.
For him, the current narrow debate on public sector spending cuts missed the mark. He believes that social costs of cuts imply that we should also think about how to boost growth; growth that would only come if we addressed the lack of thinking in the banking sector and got government capital behind creditworthy businesses.
Rex Vevers, the Finance Director of Ceres Power which makes fuel cell technology to replace your standard gas boiler, said the problem with the current system (and that includes both private and public sector capital) is that it lets business down at the very costly, but extremely important development and commercialisation stages:
"It all comes down to the cost of capital. If government capital can help lower risk, it will lower the cost of capital and attract more finance."
Our last speaker, Shantha Shanmugalingam, Director of Investment at NESTA, said that while we're alright as a country at seed capital, we really let ourselves down when it comes to growth capital. In his view, the right set of reforms to the financial architecture could help foster the diversity of funding found in the US, for example:
"The issue is innovation - innovation in financial services can be a good thing, but it depends on where the innovation is targeted."
But the most interesting issues came out from the discussion.
The first was education: Financiers, politicians and government officials simply don't understand real businesses, especially capital-investment intensive companies. While there is a lot of skill within the financial sector, there wasn't a lot of understanding of the real world. That fundamental problem needs to be addressed is a priority.
The second was the role of non-execs on bank boards. Who are these people and are they interested in the long-term success of the bank or the next quarter's results?
For my money its about getting the right mix between reform of the financial architecture and getting finance and government to truly understand what drives long-term growth and prosperity.