When it comes to business between the UK and Israel, things have seldom looked better. Bilateral trade is booming, up 72 percent in the six years to 2018. And exports from Israel to the UK rose by 21 percent in the same period.
Also strengthening this burgeoning relationship is the increasing number of Israeli companies heading to London. The city has become an increasingly popular destination for them; 26 are listed in London with market capitalisation of about $18 billion, and the numbers are set to rise.
So what is it about the UK, and London in particular, that is making it more attractive than ever to Israeli firms? Few are more qualified to answer than Justine Zwerling, head of primary markets Israel at the London Stock Exchange (LSE).
The British-born, Israel-based mum of two has spent most of her career helping Israeli companies to succeed in the UK.
Is UK–Israel trade the best it’s been? “I think it is,” says Zwerling, whose previous roles include deputy director of trade and investment at the British Embassy in Tel Aviv.
“When I fly over all I can see is this incredible business environment on the plane. Everyone is standing up doing business and exchanging business cards. I have meetings on the plane, and at the airport beforehand.”
Zwerling is in the UK every month for her role – to help companies grow and raise capital on London Stock Exchange – through AIM (the Alternative Investment Market), the main market, ELITE and Fixed Income.
“I see very positive things. Israelis are realising that it’s a very short jump over the sea,” she says. “Israel and the UK were two of the first countries to sign the trade deal that will be implemented post-Brexit, and there are currently $10.8 billion of Israeli government bonds listed in London, so that’s extremely positive.”
AIM, LSE’s growth market, designed to help smaller companies access capital from the public market, has become popular with Israeli firms. “Most of the Israeli companies are scaling small-to-medium cap and you have the unicorns, but we have quite a good split between AIM and the main market.
“Sometimes people think of AIM as a stepping stone, but with AIM you have the ability to grow, raise additional capital through follow on issuances, and there is of course the potential to transfer to the main market. That’s very attractive for Israelis.”
Twelve Israeli firms are listed on the main market, including 888 Holdings, PLUS500, PPHE Hotel Group and Playtech. And 14 on AIM: Kape Technologies, Amiad Water Systems and MTI Wireless Edge are a few.
So why London? “I see huge advantages in the speed of business that can be done in the UK, the excellent regulatory environment and legal systems, and the ability to list quite quickly. Israelis understand the London markets and that we have something very special to offer. The potential is enormous.”
Born in the UK, Zwerling made aliyah in 1996 in her 20s, “with £2,000 in my rucksack. I’d wanted to be in Israel for a long time”, she recalls.
Zwerling, who has a degree in English literature and history from Bath Spa University and a masters in Middle Eastern history from the Hebrew University, spent a long time working with charities, exporting UK welfare to work policy internationally.
She became involved with trade and governments and joined the British Embassy in Tel Aviv in the trade and investment role. “I was able to be part of kickstarting a commercially focused operation that helped companies looking to expand abroad. We were able to tap into a new pipeline of companies that have now set up in the UK, employing British people across the country.”
Zwerling saw the potential for Israeli companies to access public markets and started working with the LSE to support them.
After three and a half years, she jumped ship and took up her post at the LSE in 2016.