Why I quit my London investment banking job to open an art gallery in Paris
Stephane Alizond spent nearly twenty years working in the City of London before returning to his native Paris, where he's in the process of opening an art gallery. He didn't leave London because of Brexit - he went before that - but he says Brexit is suddenly inspiring plenty of his French finance friends in the City to follow his example.
“A lot of people are coming back home since Brexit,” he tells us. “Usually for a complete career change. There are a lot of very bright, competitive bankers dedicating themselves to something new – I know people who have opened restaurants or become farmers.”
The City is reliant on a huge population of French expats who work in investment banking, derivatives structuring and other complex financial services roles that tap the ready supply of talent coming out of the grande écoles. There are an estimated 300,000 French expats living in the UK and around a third work in the City. Not only are French bankers fearful of their jobs relocating elsewhere in London, they're also scared on the impact Brexit will have on the number of French nannies, school teachers and other support networks that speak French to their children.
Alizond two decade City career was predominantly spent in derivatives sales positions, at banks including UBS and BNP Paribas. For the last nine years of his banking career he was at Royal Bank of Scotland, latterly as head of the core Europe risk solution group. He tells us that he was "fed up of banking" and wanted to do something different - an increasingly common move among French bankers in London, he says. Now, he’s setting up an art gallery in the fifth district of Paris on Rue Claude Bernard.
It’s difficult for today's banks' sales professionals to envisage the glory days of pre-crisis big bonuses, but Alizond didn’t spend his annual payouts on Ferraris or London property. Instead, he channeled the money into his passion for contemporary Japanese photography.
“My bonuses essentially allowed me to build up a big art collection over a number of years,” he said. “This was more about enthusiasm than any commercial venture, but I’d known since 2008 than I needed to leave banking. The derivative markets were essentially dead – no one had an appetite for buying complex products anymore.”
Alizond’s gallery, which opens in May, will focus on his photographic interests. He says contemporary Japanese photography is still an untapped niche in art gallery-heavy Paris. For the past year, he’s been visiting Japan to connect with artists like Daido Moriyama, Araki Nobuyoshi and Tomoko Sawada and bring their work to France.
Despite Alizond’s enthusiasm for photography as an art form, the new gallery is very much a commercial venture. The intention is not simply to exhibit the work, but also to sell it.
Wall Street professionals can spend huge sums of money on building collections and a lot of this can be modern art. Take Robert Tibbles, a Santander bond salesman who has a large collection of Damian Hurst pieces, as well as around 30 works from artists such as Gilbert and George, Simon Patterson, Ian Davenport, Michael Landy and Michael Craig Martin. Meanwhile, Paul Leong, a Wall Street investment banker, has a vast collection of modern art in his New York penthouse. Alizond is planning to take advantage this.
“There are a lot of people in banking who are keen art collectors, and I have friends in finance who are interested in buying some work,” he says. “I’m a salesman at heart, and I know a lot of finance professionals and former clients who would be interested in buying the photos. It’s a hobby and passion that has become a business.”
Image courtesy of Stephane Alizond