Brexit Britain Wasting Time on Pay Gap, Billionaire Spencer Says

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(Bloomberg) -- British business is “wasting time” reviewing the gender pay gap when it should be focused on limiting the fallout from Brexit, according to Michael Spencer, the billionaire founder of electronic markets operator NEX Group Plc.

Spencer is the first major figure in British business to criticize new rules that last month compelled every firm employing more than 250 people to reveal the difference between average pay for men and women. The 62-year-old is a key supporter of the Conservative government and a friend of David Cameron, the former prime minister who introduced the requirement for businesses -- and called the Brexit referendum.

“We find ourselves wasting time with things like the gender pay-gap review, which I found thoroughly misleading,” Spencer, who voted Remain, said in his first interview since agreeing to sell NEX to CME Group Inc., the Chicago-based futures trading giant, for about $5.5 billion. “I get despairing when I hear any discussion about quotas.”

NEX’s shareholders meet on Friday to vote on CME’s offer for the company. The deal will complete “on or about 30 September,” according to Spencer, although it still needs approval from regulators in the U.K., the U.S., Germany, Italy, Sweden and Hong Kong. Spencer, whose personal fortune has rocketed to more than a billion pounds ($1.36 billion) thanks to the CME offer, will stay on as an executive at the combined group for six months and a further 18 months as a non-executive director.

If CME and NEX -- and the Brexiteers -- stick to their preferred completion dates, Spencer will cease to have an executive role at the company he founded in 1986, just days after the U.K. leaves the European Union in March.

Gender pay revelations seized headlines in Britain earlier this year, with several of the biggest banks operating in London revealing that they pay women more than 50 percent less than men on average.

Spencer says that as well as distracting companies from the work they will need to do to preserve access to EU customers after Britain leaves the bloc, the architects of gender pay-gap reporting and advocates of quotas for women in certain roles are assuming that all or most men are prejudiced.

“I’m very much against quotas,” Spencer said. “It’s creating almost a stigma that the whole of the business community has prejudices. If you are a white middle-aged bloke, you have to have prejudices. I find that upsetting because I do not.”

Senior Executives

On the sixth floor of NEX headquarters at 2 Broadgate Circle in London is the executive suite, with Spencer, naturally, in a corner office. Of the other four offices, three are occupied by women. Samantha Wren is both chief financial officer and chief operating officer. Victoria Mellor is group head of marketing and communications, while Harriet Oliver runs human resources. Ken Pigaga, the previous COO and current head of NEX’s post-trade business, is the only man other than Spencer to have his own office.

Like almost every financial-services company, NEX pays women less than men. Their average hourly rate is 25 percent lower than for male colleagues, a significant gap, but much smaller than the 50-percent-plus pay differences at banks such as Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and HSBC Holdings Plc. ICAP, the voice-broking business that Spencer sold to Tullett Prebon Plc at the end of 2016, had a pay gap of 51 percent, according to its filing.

Rather than focusing on gender pay-gap reports, Spencer wants the Conservative Party he once fundraised for to prioritize getting a post-Brexit deal for London’s financial-services sector.

“I’m concerned that our government is not thinking about financial services,” he said. “Financial services are our most important export. I’m very passionate about many things, and I’m passionate about our country.”

Read more: how Spencer turned 50 grand into a 3.9-billion-pound business

In the aftermath of the vote to leave the EU, Spencer said people “should all get behind that decision” to make the best of it. Almost two years later, he sounds less optimistic.

“What I do concern myself with is that the U.K. does not become a little, protectionist country,” he said. “We have to focus on what we need to do to attract inward investment. We should be contemplating cutting corporation tax further. I worry that I do not hear that rhetoric any more.”

Charity Event

After Friday’s shareholder vote, the next major event for Spencer will be NEX Giving Day on June 7. It’s the reincarnation of ICAP Charity Day, an event that Spencer started in 1993 and gave the firm its biggest profile with the general public.

For one day every year, the ICAP brokers that matched trades over the phone donated all of their revenue; the event is best known for the photos of celebrities like Prince Harry and Lewis Hamilton trying to broker trades of arcane securities, such as interest-rate swaps. ICAP’s charity day has so far donated 139 million pounds to good causes, and new owners TP ICAP Plc -- a name Spencer calls “a bit of a mouthful” -- plan to keep holding the event.

Spencer will soon have a lot more time on his hands. And a lot of capital with which to fund any future projects.

“I do not aspire towards running a public company again,” he said. “Running a public company has become less and less attractive. It’s a shrill world that we live in now. I find the political attacks ill-informed and obstructive. Yet, I have no desire to run off, and find a sandy beach, and drink pina coladas.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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