Well… yes, and no.
Last month, economist and former Economics editor of The Guardian and Observer, now principal at Oxford University, Will Hutton, said that like it or not Brexit will topple London’s crown as the world’s financial centre. His comments came in the wake of the now famous Tweet from the chairman of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein.
Blankfein tweeted: ‘Just left Frankfurt. Great meetings, great weather, really enjoyed it. Good because I’ll be spending a lot more time there. #Brexit”. Goldman Sachs has warned that 1,000 of its 6,000 UK staff could de-camp to Europe, while Deutsche Bank and JP Morgan have already said that they could each move 4,000 of their UK finance talent, with Paris and Frankfurt increasingly being touted as the alternative destinations of choice.
These proposed moves are not limited to the bigger players. Indeed, the Bank of England recently warned of the loss of 75,000 finance jobs across the board from London as a result of Brexit – almost a third (29%) of the total number of people it employs. But it is the long-term impact that Britain’s exit from the EU will have on finance sector jobs which is of greater concern.
London will certainly continue to be a major player in the financial world for many years to come, but its reign as Europe’s – let alone the world’s – financial centre is already beginning to wane. Once the Brexit divorce is complete, the implications could mean further job losses over the long term. So, could Paris steal the crown, and will there be a wholesale retreat from London?
The French capital certainly has a number of strong selling points. For starters, it is already home to several major European banks, and with them, a skilled talent base. Plus, business rates are also lower than in London, with the French government seemingly pulling out all the stops to lure both talent and investment to Paris and the wider economic region.
Paris does have a battle on its hands though. Frankfurt is currently its main challenger – even Dublin has thrown its hat into the ring to become the future finance capital of Europe.
However, even if the Bank of England’s suggestion of 75,000 job losses proves to be overly pessimistic, the wind of change is already taking place. Last month, RBS chairman Sir Howard Davies said that “if we go in for Brexit we will find that jobs will leave the City and there will be a rebalancing of financial activity within Europe.” He is right – there is a wave of talent already making its way across the Channel, and it will only gather momentum over the coming 12-18 months as the Brexit talks near conclusion.
Will Hutton takes this argument a step further. He said: “The world hasn’t seen a synchronised boom at any point ever and for Britain to grow at just 1% is a calamity. We should be growing at a rate of 3%, 4% or even 5% and whatever the growth rate will be after Brexit, it will be 1% or more lower than what it should be.” Against this backdrop, it is hard to counter the Bank of England’s forecasts.
Time will tell if the 75,000 figure proves to be on the money, it may also transpire to be wide of the mark too – whether the overall losses are higher or lower.
While we cannot predict with any certainly the full extent of job losses from the UK’s finance sector, the combination of prolonged negotiations with the EU and continued uncertainty are prompting finance organisations to take action now, rather than adopt a wait-and-see approach.