Conor Lambe, Economist at Danske Bank, tells agendaNi why he returned to Northern Ireland, how the low interest rate environment is impacting the banks and what Brexit might mean for Northern Ireland.
agendaNi recently caught up with new Danske Bank Economist Conor Lambe. The Bank’s previous economist, Angela McGowan, took up her new role as Director of the CBI in Northern Ireland towards the end of 2016. Her successor has quickly established himself as a regular economic commentator across the media and at numerous business events.
Conor (27) joined Danske Bank from PwC in London where he was working as an economist, focusing on macroeconomics. He is originally from Carrowdore on the Ards Peninsula and attended Regent House School in Newtownards, before completing a degree in Economics at the University of St Andrews.
What attracted you to return to Northern Ireland to progress your career?
I believe that Danske Bank has really stood out in the local market in recent years both in terms of its economic research, and the service it provides to its customers. I also spent some time working in the Bank while I was a student, so I was excited by the opportunity to come back. I had a great time in London, but I always knew that I would return home one day and I’ve really enjoyed my first six months with Danske Bank.
How is the low interest rate environment impacting your customers and the banks?
Low interest rates affect our customers in different ways. For borrowers, they are good news as repayments make up a smaller proportion of household budgets. But for savers, the return available on deposits is relatively low. Low interest rates pose a challenge for banks as they have an impact on the performance of the business. But even when UK interest rates do begin to rise, increases are expected to be slow and gradual. So the low interest rate environment is likely to persist as the Bank of England’s base rate would still be relatively low even after a couple of increases.
Do you think Northern Ireland will be designated a special status with regards to Brexit?
Northern Ireland faces a unique challenge in that it shares a land border with another EU member state – the Republic of Ireland. But I think the UK Government will focus on agreeing a national and uniform exit package, rather than one that includes special provisions for different regions. There is obviously much work to be done around finding a solution that minimises disruption at the border. But I don’t think we will have a final resolution to this issue until we know the terms of trade that the UK and EU will operate under, and that could be some way away yet.
What do you make of Northern Ireland’s draft Industrial Strategy?
There are a lot of positives to take from the draft Industrial Strategy. For example, low productivity is a long-standing issue facing the Northern Ireland economy and the textbook answer to combatting this is to invest in infrastructure and skills, as well as to encourage further innovation and R&D. The strategy covers these areas so it seems to be starting from the right place. It’s also encouraging to see some ambitious targets included in the document around job creation and the competitiveness of the Northern Ireland economy. However, the strategy did not discuss what budget will be available to pursue the policy measures included. And much more needs to be said on the impact of Brexit on the local economy and how policymakers plan to respond to the challenges and opportunities that leaving the EU will bring.
What makes Northern Ireland stand out as a good place to do business?
Northern Ireland’s businesses can compete in global markets, the local economy has benefitted from attracting inward investment and we have excellent universities. Looking forward, there are undoubtedly some challenges on the horizon, but when I speak to our customers I’m always impressed by their drive and desire to keep going and keep growing their businesses.
Conor Lambe can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can follow Conor on Twitter at @ConorLambe