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When Brexit and US soft power collide

When Brexit and US soft power collide

Why the United States plays a crucial role in deciding London’s future as a financial services center post-Brexit.

Joe Cassidy

Partner, Financial Services

KPMG in the UK


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It’s easy to see Brexit as a two-way clash between the UK and European Union. But when it comes to Europe’s financial system, and where its centre of gravity will reside, the United States has a decisive role to play.

I suspect that in most respects the US administration sees Brexit as a local dispute concerned with things like migration and tariffs and I doubt they care too much what taxes we slap on each other’s cars or vegetables.

But when it comes to finance, the UK’s role is not a local matter – the activities taking place here represent the beating heart of the global financial system, and specifically the $544 trillion interest rate clearing market.

Though their stance appears to be softening, the European Commission would like to have the option to regulate and relocate the portion of that market cleared in euros to within the EU. That’s a problem for everyone, including the US, because it would fragment the market which could both destabilise global finance and also increase costs for all operators. It would also mean major US banks would face the same EU-imposed limits as their British counterparts.

The US has a clear interest in preserving the status quo and they also have the soft power to protect that interest. That comes primarily from the status of the US dollar. The majority of international derivative contracts continue to be priced in dollars and around four fifths of FX transactions have a dollar leg. London is important in that picture because that’s where 90% of the rates markets are cleared.

The US already has a historical agreement with the UK and the EU that established today’s dual supervisory framework and they have little to gain by tearing up something they’ve spent years helping to put together.

From a purely commercial perspective there’s nothing to gain for the European economy in relocating euro trades to the EU. Less liquidity and higher margining means derivative trades would become more costly – costs that corporates and consumers would ultimately bear.

Of course Brexit will challenge the UK’s position in global finance, but not to the extent that many fear. Financial institutions we speak to remain committed to the UK with its deep, liquid and efficient capital and financial markets infrastructure. The unique confluence of its language, law and longitude means the UK continues to be an ideal offshore location to manage risk.

The EU has already begun stepping back from its earlier insistence on euro clearing and thanks to US soft power the UK may hold a stronger hand than many realise.

This article first appeared in CityAM. 

© 2020 KPMG LLP, a UK limited liability partnership, and a member firm of the KPMG network of independent member firms affiliated with KPMG International Cooperative, a Swiss entity. All rights reserved.

KPMG International Cooperative (“KPMG International”) is a Swiss entity. Member firms of the KPMG network of independent firms are affiliated with KPMG International. KPMG International provides no client services. No member firm has any authority to obligate or bind KPMG International or any other member firm vis-à-vis third parties, nor does KPMG International have any such authority to obligate or bind any member firm.

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