Istanbul’s chances of becoming international finance center
The first concrete step for Istanbul to become an international finance center was taken in 2012. A tender was held for the finance center that was decided to be built at Ataşehir, on the Asian side of the city.
Contractor Ali Ağaoğlu, who names himself “the architect of life,” won the tender of the finance center, which includes 1,500 homes and 200 commercial units. Ağaoğlu had said the finance center project would cost between $4.5 to 5 billion. As far as I know, Ağaoğlu plans to complete the project by the end of 2015.
No doubt, the construction of the buildings is the easiest part of the project to make the dream of Istanbul becoming an international finance center come true. Turkey, which has proved itself on the field of contracting in the toughest geographies of the world, will not have a problem with the building part.
However, when it comes to the essential conditions of becoming an international finance center, experts cite criteria such as political and economic stability, geographic location, cash flow, a livable environment for talented professionals, a reliable tax policy, transparency and an investment-friendly environment as important factors.
Michael Bloomberg, the ex-mayor of New York, a city that is one of the two most important financial centers in the world together with London, was in Istanbul recently, as one of the speakers in a conference held at the historic 106-year-old Haydarpaşa Train Station.
Bloomberg listed the criteria of becoming an international financial center as follows: First, the safety of the city; second, the “English” language; third, technological infrastructure.
English is a huge handicap in this country. All kinds of surveys - including the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) scores - show that we are below average in English. The teaching and learning of English is one of the black holes in our education system.
Another speaker in the conference, Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek, mentioned how life in Istanbul was facilitated by metro and the underwater tunnel Marmaray. However, despite everything, traffic is Istanbul’s biggest problem and people can spend up to an average of two hours to commute to work.
Şimşek also pointed out that there were no adequate venues around Ataşehir to host art and cultural events. Can an international finance center exist anywhere in the world without an opera building?
If you have an ambition to become a finance center like New York, London or Shanghai, then you have to facilitate the lives of foreigners living there. This includes top-class schools for their children and markets that sell a variety of food ingredients from all around the world. As a professional shyly reminded me during a chat at the conference: What about the alcohol bans? Their latest surprise was that the restaurant right next to Hagia Irene Church, which has been hosting concerts for the Istanbul Music Festival, refused to serve them alcohol recently.
In short, Istanbul’s shortcomings on its way to being a finance center are quite plentiful.
Maybe, as Bloomberg has said, for the time being Istanbul has the potential to be a “regional finance center.”