WILBUR ROSS, the main shareholder and vice chairman of the Bank of Cyprus, saw an opportunity for Cyprus that was created by Britain’s decision to leave the European Union. Many London-based financial companies would be looking to re-locate in order to remain within the EU and Cyprus should try to take advantage of this exodus from the UK, the American said.
He felt that in the next two years, during which Britain would be negotiating its new relationship with the Union, there would be a large degree of uncertainty and market volatility that Cyprus should take advantage of. It was a “God-given opportunity, but a brief one,” said Ross, who urged the Cyprus government to seize it and not leave Ireland and Frankfurt to benefit on their own from the changes. According to some estimates, up to 100,000 jobs in London’s financial sector could move to other EU countries over the next four years.
Nobody could dispute Ross’ ability to spot a good business opportunity, his huge fortune being proof of his shrewdness as an investor; and he has a direct financial interest in the Cyprus economy expanding. To be successful, the Cyprus government “should adopt and immediately announce even more liberal financial services policies,” he said, although it was not clear what he meant. Were financial services policies not liberal enough? And was there scope for them to become more liberal given the EU guidelines and directives for the sector?
He may have been referring to the red tape and bureaucratic delays that put off businesses from setting up operations here. This is persistent problem which everyone is aware of, business groups are constantly complaining about and many governments have unsuccessfully tried to solve. It appears that nobody has a clue how to go about simplifying procedures and speeding up the decision-making of bureaucrats, who often behave as if their duty is to prevent foreign businesses from coming to Cyprus.
This government has promised to address the problem, even though it has not done anything yet. Finance minister Haris Georgiades, who was in the audience for Ross’ speech, should perhaps start putting together a plan. Apart from simplifying state procedures, the government should hire a consultancy firm to produce and implement a strategic plan, to attract London finance companies that would be considering re-locating. It is a major project that requires much thought and planning, as well as a capable team for putting it into motion. And, most importantly, it needs to be prepared in record time because there will be a lot of competition.
We can only hope that the government would act speedily, because we very much doubt that it is only Ross who has seen the opportunity.