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Selling Frankfurt: “In an area the size of London you have 50 beautiful German villages”

Frankfurt bankers London

Frankfurt's alternative to Winchester

If you’re fed up with commuting in and out of London in carriages that are so full it’s like travelling cattle class, try Frankfurt. If you’re fed up with spending a large chunk of your income on London mortgages or rents, try Frankfurt. If you want to be assured of a finance job in future, try Frankfurt. This is the takeaway of the past week.

“The first thing you need to know about Frankfurt is that it’s very, very small,” says Stefan Mueller, a former proprietary trader at Dresdner Kleinwort and Sal Oppenheim turned managing partner at DGWA, a German investment boutique. “The population of Frankfurt is only 700,000,” adds Mueller, “But that swells to 1.5m during the day as people come into the city to work. Outside Frankfurt – in an area the size of London you have 50 or 60 beautiful little German villages – and an unbelievable infrastructure that brings people to work here.

“It’s totally, totally different to commuting in and out of London,” Mueller says. “I know no one who has lived and worked here and does not like it.”

In terms of commuter towns, the leafy Guildford to Frankfurt’s seething London is Bad Homburg, a town at the foot of the Taunus mountains which dates back to the 10th century. “It’s the number once choice,” says one British finance expat working in Frankfurt. “It’s incredibly beautiful and wealthy but far cheaper than Guildford and Winchester and it’s only a 30 minute drive into the city.

“My brother, who works in London, was here at the weekend and he couldn’t believe how nice it is,” she adds. “It’s the commute that will sell Frankfurt to people working in the City.”

What about the jobs though? The German recruiters and bankers we spoke to are in agreement: there’s no immediate uplift.

“There’s nothing new happening here,” says Gunnar Kühne, managing director of Frankfurt-based Gunnar Kühne Executive Search GmbH. “There’s a certain hope that the negotiations with Great Britain will lead to an ‘EU light’.” Elena Barclay, a principal at recruitment firm Dartmouth Partners in Frankfurt, says some banks already have contingency plans in place: “They’ve leased buildings and are ready to move people, but it will take time.”

And if jobs do move? “At a minimum, banks will have to form separate legal entities for the ECB to supervise,” says a managing director at one European bank in Frankfurt. “They’ll then need local infrastructure, sales and risk management.”

The big unknown is trading. If market rumours are to be believed, banks like Deutsche already have their trading books in Frankfurt, it’s just the actual traders who sit in London. “The trading book is a legal entity. It’s not a physical thing,” says Mueller. “The guys who press the button can sit anywhere – if the regulators will allow that.” The Frankfurt-based MD says it’s unlikely that some products will still be traded out of London in five years’ time: “Local products like Pfandbriefe, Schuldscheine and Cedulas will need to move to Frankfurt at a minimum. In the worst case, all EUR securities and derivatives will need to move too. The end result is probably somewhere in the middle.”

For the time being, London-based staff need little encouragement to work in Germany. “There has been a significant increase in interest from candidates for roles in Frankfurt and Munich over the last week, in banking and private equity,” says Barclay. Whether they will all be eligible or jobs is another question: “I’ve been working as a headhunter in Frankfurt for seven years and 99% of my mandates require fluent German,” says Kühne.

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