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JPMorgan's Paris traders only part of the threat to London
Brexit

JPMorgan's Paris traders only part of the threat to London

9 min. 21.12.2021
The French capital has gained one year on from Brexit, but cities such as Dublin, Amsterdam and Frankfurt have also emerged as winners
The Paris business district of La Défense
The Paris business district of La Défense
Photo credit: Shutterstock

In Paris, JPMorgan Chase & Co. has worked out of an exquisite 18th-century hôtel particulier on the Place Vendome for the last 105 years. If you want an idea of how Brexit is transforming the landscape of Europe’s finance industry you should pop around the back.

Before Britain quit the European Union, JPMorgan’s Paris HQ was a relative backwater with about 250 staff. Thanks to the shift of EU banking out of London it expects to have 800 by the end of next year. Most remarkable, according to workers there, is that the Wall Street giant has pretty much added a whole new business line to its French HQ: Trading and sales.

To make room for all those traders, the firm has acquired a seven-floor modern extension behind the old building that looks out onto the terraced restaurants of the Place du Marche Saint Honore. Not as charming as the front entrance but proof of a serious investment banking operation.

It’s a symbol of how Paris has become the EU’s No.1 financial trading hub. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. has more than tripled its local headcount since the Brexit vote. Bank of America Corp. has gone from 83 staff in 2017 to about 500 now.

But as we approach the first anniversary of Britain’s EU departure there’s a broader trend at play here, too - one that’s potentially more threatening to the City of London. While Paris is winning the fight for lucrative trading jobs, other places such as Frankfurt, Dublin and Amsterdam are emerging as EU financial hubs in their own right, just for different specialisms.

“Now the smoke of Brexit is starting to clear, we see investment banks have ended up in Paris and Frankfurt - close to the regulators - investment funds settled in Dublin and Luxembourg, and the stock market has ended up in Amsterdam,” says Dirk Schoenmaker, Professor of Banking and Finance at Rotterdam’s Erasmus University. Frankfurt is also welcoming lots of lawyers.

None of this is to overstate the immediate danger to London. New figures from EY show Paris has attracted about 2,800 finance workers from the UK since the 2016 referendum, Frankfurt about 1,800 and Dublin close to 1,200. That’s a long way from the tens of thousands some predicted. JPMorgan’s Canary Wharf tower still dwarfs its Paris digs.

Yet something profound has happened during the pandemic that will make it easier for these EU capitals to work together to challenge the City, according to Stephane Boujnah, boss of Paris-listed stock exchange company Euronext NV.

London’s champions often point to the Square Mile’s unique “ecosystem,” where traders, clearers and dealmakers work - and play - cheek by jowl with hedge funds, corporate lawyers and all types in between. But the ease with which financiers have moved to remote working has called into question whether they need to be in physical proximity at all, Boujnah says.

“After Covid everyone has realised that the concept that people need to be in the same city” no longer holds, he says. “When you don’t go to the pub for 18 months then you have the proof that you can work” without mingling.

For him and others this opens the door for the continent to provide its own cross-border ecosystem: trading in Paris, funds in Dublin, equities in Amsterdam, legal and compliance (and trading) in Frankfurt. Kristine Braden, head of Europe at Citigroup Inc, says the bloc’s capital markets and banking unions will help knit things together.

A year since Brexit became reality, Bloomberg reporters have looked at the relative merits of these emerging EU hubs.

Paris

For Kyril Courboin, JPMorgan’s senior country officer in France, his home city’s advantages are abundant. “Paris has now all the assets to become the trading hub of the euro zone,” he says: “Quality of the infrastructure, talent pool, connectivity with London and quality of life.”

Not everyone is as captivated by the City of Light. Many London bankers are reluctant to cross the Channel for a host of reasons - from not yanking kids out of school to worrying about their own basic French. But with Wall Street’s finest throwing money, bodies and sparkling offices at their Paris trading teams post-Brexit, it’s harder to view this as a career-limiting destination.

Goldman Sachs is moving into a plush new site near the Arc de Triomphe and BofA is in a renovated art deco post office. Citi is creating a trading floor in its site near the Champs-Elysees that can accommodate almost 200 people. Morgan Stanley’s Paris HQ is growing and JPMorgan has six new trading floors in its extended office. “This is the best evidence of love,” President Emmanuel Macron told JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon in June.

London still dominates - as Courboin’s lauding of the Eurostar attests - but the City will fret if more hedge funds follow their banker friends to Paris. Citadel has opened there; Millennium and Qube Research & Technologies are beefing up their French teams.

Despite the language barrier, this isn’t just about local hires now preferring the 16th arrondissement to South Kensington. JPMorgan estimates that for the EU as a whole about four in 10 of its post-Brexit hires are moves from London. In Paris the new arrivals included 32 nationalities as of June.

Generous expat tax breaks will play a part. Handy for the world’s second-most expensive city.

Frankfurt

Frankfurt was meant to be the big Brexit winner, with experts estimating that up to 10,000 jobs would move to Germany’s financial capital. Deutsche Bank AG once said it might need as many as 4,000 London staff to up sticks. It hasn’t quite panned out that way. Deutsche has moved only a few hundred people, not helped by the pandemic.

But the city is still second only to Paris in the number of finance jobs won from London. Wall Street banks such as Goldman have more than doubled their Frankfurt headcounts, moving to shiny new premises, and global lenders have shifted assets worth hundreds of billions of euros onto German balance sheets. That’s more than any other EU city.

Frankfurt, the home of the European Central Bank, has developed into a post-Brexit cluster for compliance and legal roles
Frankfurt, the home of the European Central Bank, has developed into a post-Brexit cluster for compliance and legal roles
Shutterstock

It isn’t easy persuading traders to choose Frankfurt’s more austere pleasures. Non-German speakers can struggle to become part of the Frankfurt fabric, according to several executives. Many who’ve moved from London are repatriating Germans. Some left older kids in Britain when they departed. Finding a decent international school in Frankfurt is tricky.

That said, Germany’s attractiveness to corporations and Frankfurt’s status as home to the European Central Bank have helped make it a post-Brexit cluster for compliance and legal roles. Big US banks and others with smaller European operations such as Nomura Holdings Inc. and Standard Chartered Plc have boosted back-office staff.

Dublin

Dublin is one of the standout winners from the post-Brexit financial diaspora. Banks from Barclays Plc to BofA have bolstered their EU bases in the Irish capital. Citi, whose main European lending entity is in Ireland, has about 2,500 employees there and it’s expanding functions such as finance and risk management.

The city’s chief success is that it’s emerging as the EU hub for fund managers - alongside Luxembourg. More than 100 such firms sought an Irish license because of Brexit, according to Ireland’s central bank. Goldman Sachs Asset Management and Morgan Stanley Investment Management were among them.

Pat Lardner, head of the Irish Funds Industry Association, says there was “about an 80% increase in alternative investment fund managers” between the Brexit vote and this April. Direct employment in the sector increased by about 1,300 in the two years to the end of 2020.

An English-speaking city next door to London was always going to be attractive, says Kieran Donoghue at IDA Ireland, the inward investment agency. It doesn’t hurt to have a pro-business government, relative proximity to the US and cut-price corporation tax.

Dublin is ideal for those who want somewhere lively but not overwhelming, says Furio Pietribiasi, Chief Executive Officer of Mediolanum International Funds. “Ireland offers a great lifestyle for young individuals or families,” he says. “While this remains a very international city it’s also ‘small’ compared to other capitals, particularly London.” Decent, affordable schools are a draw.

Amsterdam

Amsterdam is home to the world’s oldest stock exchange, and after Britain’s departure it’s the EU’s undisputed champion for share trading. In the two months following Brexit the Dutch capital’s average value of daily traded equities rose 357%; the value wasn’t far off that of Paris and Frankfurt combined.

This activity by itself is “likely one of the least lucrative aspects of the Brexit exodus in the short run,” according to Sandra Phlippen, chief economist at ABN AMRO Bank NV. “We’ll earn a bit of money and some new jobs will be created, but that will be in the order of tens to 100s of people.”

The real opportunity will be using these liquid markets to attract other financial work, and to try to take a chunk of London’s clearing business. Amsterdam is already a serious rival to the City on initial public offerings; it is Europe’s leader on SPACs (special purpose acquisition companies).

The Netherlands has advantages over France and Germany, too. English is spoken willingly and the government doesn’t like to pile on extra regulations, because it wants to keep financial transaction costs low. “The Dutch mindset and how they apply the rules is closest to the Anglo-Saxon model,” says Erasmus University’s Schoenmaker.

The country’s technology and internet infrastructure is also stronger than most, making it a natural alternative to Britain for fintech startups. “The Dutch regulator is really forward looking,” says Dora Ziambra, chief operating officer of Azimo, a money-transfer company that opened in Amsterdam because of Brexit. “You have a high quality of life,” she adds. “In London the commute is quite difficult, here you can just take your bike.”

Milan

Brexit isn’t the only thing to have enhanced Milan’s appeal recently. The appointment as prime minister of Mario Draghi - the person who “saved the euro” while running the ECB - is more important still.

Italy is often seen as the euro zone’s poor relation because of its byzantine politics, vast bureaucracy and creaking infrastructure. Post-Brexit moves to Milan mostly have involved Italian banks such as UniCredit SpA and Mediobanca SpA relocating staff home. But Draghi’s arrival as a competent technocrat alters the picture.

While Milan may never match the finance industry heft of Paris and Frankfurt, there are bits of post-Brexit territory it could secure for itself such as financial analytics and data. Euronext is relocating its core data center from Britain to Bergamo, a small city close to Milan. This will host about a quarter of all European equity trading. As a result, “We expect an important flow of financial-data experts moving to the Milan area,” says Livio Bossotto, a Milan-based partner at law firm Allen & Overy.

“You have the big sell-side players, like Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, HSBC, who are moving their own servers that they use for the trading of equities in Europe to Bergamo,” says Boujnah at Euronext.

Like France, Italy is waving tax breaks at foreigners and returning citizens. And, like Paris, Milan is a beautiful base if you learn the language. Giovanni Raffa, a private banker for Credit Suisse Group AG who just moved there from London, says it offers “a high-quality lifestyle, outstanding international schools, great culture.” Good skiing and sunny beaches aren’t far, either.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.


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