The word is starting to go out. As March 2019 draws nearer and there's still no clarity on the likely Brexit deal or on the extension of the transition period, banks are starting to review their contingency plans. Some London staff are being moved to Europe this summer. More will follow.
"Banks are beginning to have conversations with people on their trading desks as they seek to establish who might be open to a European move if necessary," says Christian Robbins at Tradestone Search. "It's still early days, but people are being asked to flag their willingness to go to Paris or Frankfurt."
At some banks, small moves have begun already. Goldman Sachs has already declared its intention of shifting "tens" of staff to Paris in the next two months. After announcing last week that its global head of fixed income currencies and commodities sales is relocating to the French city, Bank of America is widely expected to begin shunting fixed income salespeople to the French capital soon.
Internal transfers are complicated. The pay differential between London and Europe means U.S. banks are often keen to avoid them and to grow their new European teams by hiring afresh in local markets. Goldman Sachs, for example, has built its Paris equity derivatives team with people like Guillaume Paulhac, who joined last December after leaving London 12 months previously - he was in Paris already.
However, there's also an awareness that front office sales and trading talent in continental Europe will be hard to come by. Hence the internal moves. And hence some early mapping of employees at rival firms who might be willing to migrate from London for the right deal.
"We have already been asked to look for good salespeople in London who would be interested in moving to Europe," says Kumaran Surenthirathas at Rosehill Search. "Most banks are initially exploring moving people internally. But if existing staff don’t want to go, then we will be engaged to look for replacements on a case by case basis."
The upshot is that anyone in London who expresses a willingness to emigrate to continental Europe could soon find themselves popular with both their current employer and with rival banks courting their favour. "If you are willing to move, you stand to be in high demand,” says Surenthirathas.
It helps that not everyone wants to go, even if they're French or German by birth. "My preference is to stay in London," says one senior German equities trader, speaking on condition of anonymity. A German bond trader notes that moving to Frankfurt has traditionally been a career risk: "The most senior guys have always sat in London, and this has made it difficult to get ahead in Germany."
As Brexit-moves pick up in pace, this could change. Already, there are signs that banks like Goldman Sachs are offering extra responsibility to London bankers who move to Frankfurt to build German-based teams. The historic dearth of managing directors at U.S. banks in European financial centres could work to early movers' advantage: banks may promote quickly to fill gaps at the top of local hierarchies.
One London headhunter predicts that big titles will become a way to justify giving new arrivals from London more money than employees already in situ: "You can't have a regional salesperson in Paris earning €120k base and then bring in someone from London on €180k base without giving the London person a bigger role to justify the discrepancy."
Willingness to move to Paris, Frankfurt or Dublin could therefore become a way to secure a better job, with a bigger title, stronger promotion prospects, and at least equal pay. With school summer holidays in London about to begin, London bankers with families have reason to move soon. Their children may be less enamoured of the move though: Frankfurt school holidays began at the end of June; term starts again on August 15th.
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