Istanbul as International Financial Center

It is no secret that the Turkish government wants to make a financial center out of Istanbul. They unveiled this “grand project” back in 2009, and then held a series of public and private meetings with stakeholders and experts afterwards,, which led me to update my original column in 2011.  They have also been partnering with the U.K., or London to be exact:

The United Kingdom has been working for some time to help the Turkish government’s aspirations to make Istanbul an international financial center.

The U.K. Trade & Investment Office
, which operates inside the Istanbul Consulate in Turkey, organized a series of roundtable meetings with government officials last year. On Monday, they held the conference “U.K. and Turkey, Great Partners!” with the participation of the Lord Mayor of the City of London, Alderman Roger Gifford.

This is the intro. to my Hurriyet Daily News column, where I shared my impressions of the half-day event as well as my short chat with the Lord Mayor, compliments of the British Consulate.

What is holding Istanbul back from becoming a financial center? I have mentioned several factors in this and earlier columns, but I believe that the importance of English language skills is greatly underrated. So is the importance of expat lifestyle– which would mean that the family of the expat should be able to adapt as well.

By the way, one of my major criticism about the project is that officials have not been able to carve a niche for Istanbul: Islamic center or not? Regional or international? I recently read that London wants to strengthen its Islamic finance credentials, and so there may be some partnership opportunites with Istanbul, which has emerged as a new hot destination for Arab money.

As for impressions of the panel: You can read the HDN column, where I summarized the main points from the conference, but a couple of footnotes are in order: Those who say Turkey has moderate Islam obviously haven’t tried to find a restaurant serving alcohol in Denizli or Kayseri:) They may also be unaware that celebrated Turkish pianist Fazil Say was recently sentenced for “blasphemy”. Madness? This is Turkey! Similarly, I would only accept half of the “stable democracy” label some panelists referred to. I doubt they have read MIT economist Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson’s recent comments on the country. They probably don’t know about the recent Ergenekon rulings, or that the country has surpassed China in the number jailed journalists:( But I don’t want to sound too pessimistic: Despite these “small” glitches, I found the panelists’ assessment of Istanbul to be rather honest. For example, I’d agree with them that Turkey’s huge domestic economy is a huge plus and separates Istanbul from other financial center-wannabes.

Besides, with the financial center built by mega-contractor Ali Agaoglu, which some claim to be Turkey’s version of Mark Zuckerberg:), on track, we are at least handling the hard infrastructure, even though we have not done much about the soft (legal and financial) one. And we have a bull, just like the one in New York- and a live one at that! So Istanbul is really on its way to becoming an international financial center:)…