Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

New York City's future depends on maintaining its status as a financial capital. Every great 21st century city includes a financial center, because finance is the connective tissue of the global economy. Nothing can substitute for the FIRE (finance, insurance and real estate) sector as a source of high-paying jobs, tax revenues and economic output.

In the past year, New York's financial services industry has been the epicenter of a global crisis that has destroyed or diminished many of its most important financial institutions. The effects of the resulting losses on the regional economy are just starting to be felt. Economic conditions in New York will get worse before they start to get better.

Through 2008, the FIRE sector was responsible for about 25 percent of the $1 trillion economic output of the New York metropolitan region and employed one in seven New Yorkers working in the private sector. The financial services industry generated over 17 percent of city and 20 percent of state income tax revenues.

Going forward, "Wall Street" and the financial services industry generally will not look the same as they did in the past. The global economic crisis has brought a new reality with respect to investor expectations, regulation and business culture. New York needs to quickly reinvent itself as the new, more cautious, but equally creative world financial capital.

Our Reputation

Maintaining New York's status as a financial capital begins with stabilization of the national banking system. This is underway, thanks to federal rescue, stimulus and credit guarantee programs. Currently, recovery is being slowed by the negative energy going into retaliatory actions that Congress is being pressed to take against many of the nation's –- and New York's –- largest financial institutions. Hopefully, the country will move beyond anger so that rebuilding can proceed.

Other threats to New York's recovery are protectionist policies that discourage foreign investment, immigration and trade. New York leads the country in terms of the amount of foreign direct investment it has attracted. Some 15 percent of the city's economic growth in the past five years has come from foreign-owned business.

"Buy American" provisions in the federal stimulus package and threatened federal tax actions against foreign companies doing business in the U.S. will work against New York's position as a financial power and discourage foreign companies from listing on New York exchanges. Last year, two Chinese banks chose New York as their U.S. headquarters. A major component of future growth for the city will be as the Western metropolitan headquarters for financial institutions from Asia and emerging countries -– but only if the U.S. policies are conducive to foreign investment.

Staying at the Center

A prerequisite for the recovery and continued global leadership of New York's financial industry is keeping a large aggregation of top financial talent in the region. PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Partnership for New York City publish an annual comparative analysis of world cities and their attractiveness to business, called "Cities of Opportunity." The 2008 report determined that New York was still ranked first when it comes to intellectual capital, which is the single most important influence on 21st century business location decisions.

The latest edition of London's Global Financial Centers Index, published in March, indicates that New York's brand remains strong. London's survey of financial industry professionals found that those who work in New York are more confident about this city's future as a financial powerhouse than they are about any other city. The index still ranks London and New York at the top of 62 financial global centers, even though both have lost some ground in the past year.

Richard Florida, professor of business and creativity at the University of Toronto, writing in the March 2009 issue of The Atlantic argues that New York is more than likely to re-emerge from the current crisis as a financial leader because it is too far out in front of the pack for other cities to overtake. The historic strength of the city's financial sector and the sheer concentration of talent in finance and related disciplines, such as law and technology, give New York the best chance for continued dominance. Florida also concludes that New York's openness to talent and the diversity of its economy will help the city to exit from this crisis re-energized.

Headquarters: Big Apple

Another major factor in determining New York's future is the extent to which it offers a competitive environment for business, both large and small. State and city tax policies and economic development programs need to be carefully reconsidered with an eye toward recapturing jobs in support services, technology and back office operations that have been ceded to other states and countries during the past few decades. A changing cost structure in New York –- lower rents and reduced salaries -- may create opportunities to bring corporate operations back to New York City and state.

One certainty is that Washington will establish a new regulatory regime with unprecedented controls over all aspects of the industry, including sectors that have not previously been regulated. This should represent an opportunity for New York to redeploy financial talent. Sen. Charles Schumer has called for more regulatory agencies to relocate in New York so that these watchdogs are more in touch with the largest concentration of regulated institutions.

The possibility that the insurance industry will move to national charters, rather than state regulation, could also help New York. National regulation would level the playing field and attract national and global insurance headquarters to New York.

Administering the complex federal programs that are intended to jumpstart the national economy requires the expertise of the private sector, which the Treasury acknowledged in its procurement procedure. Already, major New York firms are involved, including Bank of New York Mellon, Goldman Sachs, Blackrock and JP Morgan Chase.

At the other end of the spectrum, New York companies also are taking the initiative to develop innovative products tailored to the new regulatory environment. Creditex, a startup launched in 1996 with funding from the New York City Investment Fund and a consortium of New York-based financial institutions, has won federal approval to operate a clearinghouse for trading of credit default swaps. Recently acquired by Intercontinental Exchange, Creditex has over 500 employees in New York and promises future growth as part of the effort to bring transparency to derivatives markets.

Using Our Strengths

Federal stimulus and stabilization programs create opportunities for the large number of financial firms owned by minorities and women that are headquartered in New York. Helping these firms get federal contracts and subcontracts is one way to re-deploy talent from Wall Street and build a new layer of successful financial enterprise in the city.

Opportunities for public-private partnerships are another area where New York investment firms and nonprofit institutions can make a contribution. New York led the nation in establishing the financial and real estate partnerships that created the nation's affordable housing and community development movement that restored the vitality of America's urban neighborhoods. This has been recognized by the Obama administration in tapping New Yorkers for key positions in housing, the economy and urban policy. This experience should be the basis for renewing and expanding the city's community development industry, both in the banking industry and the nonprofit sector.

The underlying strengths of New York City and its institutions, its diversity and depth of talent, and its internationally respected brand all suggest that it can survive the crisis and continue to thrive as a financial center. There has been reputational damage, but that can be repaired. While the business model will be different, and the profits less aggressive, New York will remain America's gateway to the global economy and the place where the world comes to invest and raise capital.

Kathryn Wylde is the president and chief executive officer of the Partnership for New York City.