Today the Amsterdam Bourse is a branch of Euronext, an exchange holding company that also operates the Brussels and Paris exchanges. Euronext, in turn, is owned by Atlanta-based IntercontinentalExchange (ICE), which operates a total of 23 exchanges around the world, including the venerable New York Stock Exchange, (NYSE), which it acquired late last year for $8.2 billion.
It's worth remembering the original Amsterdam Bourse because it established the template for the modern financial center, a physical place where finance professionals help companies access the capital they need to grow. Location obviously matters somewhat less in an era of exchange consolidation, globalized capital and 24/7 electronic trading. Even so, the complex infrastructure of modern finance is still clustered in a few major cities around the world.
"If you have a laptop and a satellite phone, you can trade from on top of a mountain," said Mark Yeandle, associate director of London's Z/Yen Group, which produces a biannual ranking of the world's top financial centers. "And yet people naturally want to cluster in cities near their clients and suppliers, even if they don't have to."
That's why Sunil Hirani chose New York City to launch trueEX, an electronic exchange for interest-rate swaps. Hirani sought to tap a new market opened up by the Dodd-Frank law, which requires swaps and other derivatives to be traded on regulated exchanges rather than over the counter. "New York makes sense for us," said Hirani. "The dealers and buy-side clients are all here, and you can get capital here."
Z/Yen's Global Financial Centres Index uses survey responses and other data to rank these cities according to such criteria as reputation, business environment, financial sector development, infrastructure and human capital. In the most recent index, published in March, New York City edged London out of the top spot for the first time since the first Z/Yen index launched in 2007, albeit by a statistically insignificant margin of two points in a 1,000-point index. Hong Kong, Singapore and Zurich rounded out the top five.
Read MoreWill Wall Street remain the financial capital of the world?