End of the Davos love-in: The World Economic Forum is back in business week but not like you remember it
The annual meeting of the world’s most powerful business leaders returns next week for the first time since the outbreak of the pandemic.
For years, the Swiss ski town of Davos has hosted the rich and famous for four days. But early indications are that this year it will be a toned-down affair.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) is still welcoming some of Britain’s most influential firms to its conference, which begins next Sunday.
Low key: The annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos returns next week for the first time since the outbreak of the pandemic
But few of those household names will be sending their most important executives, and those who do attend will be hoping to keep a low profile.
As the Treasury battles to control a cost-of-living crisis in Britain, it has confirmed it will not be sending any ministers to Davos.
The Government as a whole is still firming up whether it will send a delegation. One executive at a top bank said: ‘It feels a bit like Davos-lite rather than full-fat.’
WEF’s annual conference has typically seen some of the world’s richest people descend on the unassuming town, transforming it beyond recognition as they deck out bars and hotels with their corporate logos.
It is usually held in January, giving visitors the chance to hit the slopes and socialise before breaking up their trip with highbrow talks at the conference centre.
Journalists, meanwhile, stake out the town in the hope of catching some of the world’s most powerful leaders with their guard down.
But this year, the meeting has been pushed back to May, following the outbreak of the Omicron variant over the winter. It is the first time the meeting will be held in-person since 2020.
Of Britain’s high street lenders, Barclays and HSBC are both sending delegations. Barclays’ new boss CS Venkatakrishnan – known as Venkat – will be attending.
He has had a rough start since taking the reins from Jes Staley last year, faced with a timeshare mis-selling issue, a major trading error in the US, and an accusation from the Bank of England that it was ‘gaming the system’ over pensions.
A spokesman said Venkat would be ‘not doing much other than client engagement’.
Swiss miss: The Alpine resort of Davos has hosted the likes of Tony Blair and Bono (pictured) but this year it will dial back the glitter
Noel Quinn, the chief executive of HSBC, will not go be going this year.
But the bank’s chief sustainability officer Celina Herweijer will show her face, but a spokesman said it was ‘all about climate for us this year’.
Abrdn, the business formerly known as Standard Life Aberdeen, was once a regular.
Its then-chief executive Martin Gilbert, founder of Aberdeen Asset Management which merged with Standard Life to create the larger company, proudly hosted a scotch whisky night until 2020 at which bankers, politicians and even the odd celebrity rubbed shoulders.
But later that year, Keith Skeoch, who took over as the sole chief executive, said he believed the meeting was ‘divisive’ at a time when people were suffering due to Covid.
Speaking to the Mail, he added: ‘The money can be better spent.’
Abrdn, which is now led by Stephen Bird, confirmed that no staff would be attending.
One insider said they ‘wouldn’t be surprised’ if it marked the end of Abrdn at Davos.
Tory MP Andrew Bridgen said: ‘Seems like a waste of time. There’s something very anti-democratic about it, the way the rich and powerful congregate like that.
‘I’ve never been invited. It looks like a very nice jolly.
‘But I have deep concerns, this is not a way a democracy should function. They are obviously all going there for something but what is it?’
The WEF, however, is adamant that the meeting will be a success. It claims that more than 2,000 leaders and experts from around the world will congregate, ‘all committed to a “Davos spirit” of improving the state of the world’.