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Guest comment: Europe’s allure for Oz financiers

Michael Markiewicz, managing director of Australian search firm Carmichael Fisher, on why Australian bankers just can’t resist moving west.

As financial centres, Sydney and Melbourne may not be on a par with London or New York, but their status is rising. Australia is benefiting from its geographical closeness to Asia and from the likes of the AU$15.5bn (6.2bn) Telstra share sale bonanza.

However, some of Australia’s best and brightest young financiers continue to leave the country to work elsewhere. At any time, there are over one million Australians overseas (that’s 5% of the population). A huge 300,000 of them are in London. Why?

The main reason is the global shortage of talented candidates. In today’s market, talent shortages are widespread, with the result that companies that can’t find candidates locally will look for them elsewhere – even if that means the other side of the world. On a recent visit to Sydney, one UK headhunting company’s representatives locked themselves in a hotel room. Armed with the internal directories of a major law firm, they then telephoned everyone across the departments they wanted to target. They placed three people as a result.

Another factor is that however big Sydney and Melbourne get, they still lack the size and thrill of London and New York. The biggest deal-doers in Australia therefore spend much of their time overseas – there are simply not enough assets to satisfy their appetites down under. Bigger markets also offer complexity, better experience, a stronger resume, and higher pay. The person earning 180k in the UK can expect to earn 100k in Australia.

Then there are the lifestyle factors. London may be more expensive than Sydney, but it offers proximity to Europe and dirt cheap flights to seemingly countless exotic locations. It’s cheaper than ever to fly home for Christmas, or even for friends’ weddings, and cheap telephone charges mean time spent in London is no longer equivalent to a complete separation from people back home. It cost 1 per minute to call Australia 25 years ago. Today it costs a few pence.

To cap it all, our experience suggests London’s banks positively relish the opportunity to employ Australians. They’re hard working and easy-going. This is unsurprising given many come to London to earn money for a period before heading back home. And in some industries retaining employees for a short period of time is seen as advantageous – London law firms, for example, are particularly keen on employing Australian lawyers whose short-term contracts mean they won’t add to competition to join their partnership pools.

As a result, Australian talent will continue flowing overseas – however many Telstras there are in the years to come.

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