UBS banker says Belfast has 'a lot to offer' big firms, as USA business leaders scout out city
A Belfast-born banker has said she sees no reason why major financial institutions should not base themselves in Northern Ireland.
Suzanne Aquino from Swiss banking giant UBS was one of more than 20 USA-based business leaders and politicians taking part in the Opportunity Belfast Business Mission, endorsed by American Ireland Fund and organised by Belfast City Council.
The group visited the NY Stock Exchange in Adelaide Street, Skainos in east Belfast, Queen's University, University of Ulster, Belfast Metropolitan College, Titanic Belfast, the Northern Ireland Science Park, the Harbour Commissioners Office, Lyric Theatre and An Cultúrlann in the west of the city.
A civic dinner was also held in City Hall.
Also present was John O'Donoghue, a Newcastle-born, Queen's-educated trader working on Wall Street who assisted his previous employer, Cowen International Ltd, part of the Cowen Group, to set up a research and development centre in Belfast, which now employs around 20 people.
And Russell Smith, from leading American legal firm, SmithDehn, which has counselled clients including US Senator John Kerry, prominent businessmen Donald Trump and Mohamed Al Fayed, said he was looking at setting up "a front office, not a back office" in Northern Ireland.
SmithDehn is already working with the University of Ulster and one of its clients, HBO and Channel 4, to launch a media law course for legal graduates, the aim of which could be to train recruits for the possible new office.
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Mr Smith revealed the company may also be interested in setting up its own film and television production company.
Ms Aquino said that with banks under huge cost pressures, many are looking further afield to base their offices.
"I take people to India, China and Russia to look at locations, and I see no reason why I should not bring them to Belfast," she said.
"Belfast has a lot to offer, with firms like the New York Stock Exchange, Citi and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange already based here.
"We need to find what our niche is here, what we can do to be competitive and differential from other locations.
"Our education system and language base is an excellent start."
Mr Smith said the opportunities for companies looking to invest in Northern Ireland were many.
"We would want employees in Europe to be doing exactly the same job as the employees in the USA, and there would be no distinction," he said. "We are inspired by what we see happening in Northern Ireland.
"HBO is one of our clients and we have seen what they have done here and we are looking at developing a film and television production unit in addition to our legal services."
John O'Donoghue said Northern Ireland needed to attract more investment and stop relying on public money.
"Firms here also need to look towards Silicon Valley, towards MIT or Harvard, to see what they are doing and to see how firms here can benefit," he said.
Suzanne Curran Aquino is an executive director at UBS in the Supply and Demand Management Global Outsourcing and Offshoring Group; responsible for establishing and executing the bank's sourcing strategy, identifying ways to improve performance and the effective transition of the bank's out-sourced portfolios. Suzanne was born in Belfast and holds a bachelor's degree in marketing from Portobello College, Dublin.
A chance to pitch ideas to tycoons
More than a dozen technology start-up companies will be given an opportunity to pitch their business ideas to the group of American business leaders and politicians visiting Belfast this week.
A discussion forum involving many already well-established Belfast firms will also be hosted at City Hall to promote future networking.
Through its £150m Investment Programme, Belfast City Council has pledged to promote international relations, with the aim of attracting more foreign direct investment and tourism, as well as economic opportunities. A group of more than 20 business leaders flew into Belfast this morning for a unique mission, showcasing what the city has to offer investors.
Lord Mayor Mairtin O Muilleoir said the visit was the first mission of its kind in 20 years. "Some are ex-pats, who have risen to the pinnacles of their professions in the US," he said.
"While the mission will focus on our status as Europe's fastest growing knowledge economy, we will showcase Belfast's many natural traditional assets, including our vibrant port."
Shaun Kelly, originally from Belfast and now US vice-chair of operations for global giant KPMG, hailed the transatlantic visit as a major opportunity to showcase Belfast's potential. "I know that those visiting this week will be impressed by the people they meet, the outstanding talent, excellent facilities, and all that Belfast has to offer," he said.