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French banks for the French, German banks for the Germans?

Dresdner Kleinwort’s in trouble for allegedly favouring German-speaking employees. Are other banks open to similar accusations?

Australian banker Malcolm Perry is taking Dresdner K to court for what The Guardian describes as an allegedly discriminatory hiring policy “designed to fill senior management with Germans and German speakers.”

Perry, who was formerly head of the bank’s fixed income division, is seeking 10m in compensation.

If he succeeds, we suspect it could cause something of a ruckus in the senior echelons of other banks. BNP Paribas, for example, employs 400 French people at its Harewood Avenue office (admittedly a negligible 17% of the total), and US banks retain US bankers for senior European roles.

How much of an issue is this? Have you been overlooked for promotion because you didn’t speak the right language, or your accent didn’t have the right twang?

Comments (41)


  2. Lets put it this way. If you have an African name or African accent; boy’o’boy, your in real trouble! Your chances of gaining meaningful employment are severely curtailed.

    Thruth…………. Reply
  3. As a matter of respect for that institution people should at least try to Speak German. At the end of the day we all work in a competitive world where foreign language skills should be mandatory if you want to have international exposure.

    Come on guys, even American learn foreign languages when they come to Europe! When are the Brits going to wake up, neglect their arrogance and start appreciating foreign cultures and languages?

  4. Come on guys, start learning languages like all non-Anglosaxon people do!. Why should you be an exception?

    Investment banker Reply
  5. I interviewed BNP and it is horribly French! they claim they are international. Unless you are honed on the french mentality, stear clear…

  6. it is illegal and banks manifesting this kind of behaviour should be sued. so should anyone else caught doing this

  7. Is BNP horribly French because you didn’t get the job…?

  8. Its obvious that you need to know the language so whats the fussy about. Its not discrimination at all. Discrimination is when you know the language but you get passed over because you are of a different culture, colour or sex. He should have just learnt the language and he would be earning his respect.

    Varombo Kuvarombo Reply
  9. What is so surprising about this? This is a cultural sensitivity that exists in every type of foreign bank, be it Japanese, French, Korean, Spanish. I mean, you knew, going into that institution that it was going to be a German speaking environment. If you want more money from the bank, you ought to try something else but since you’re white and a man, there’s not much of a case. On the other hand, if you were a woman, Asian, Latin or African, you can sue for sexism or racial discrimination – these are serious issues. If you have complaints about foreign languages, just stick to institutions that utilize English – there’s a lot out there that do!

  10. Although he should have learned or known what’s the ambience in such companies as no one forced him to work there, There is a ground for discrimination….it’s time where you and i can sue for anything and everything.

  11. First of all, I find it hard to believe that a German bank holds back a promotion due to language barriers when there is no reason for this. Germans, and especially German banks, have no problems whatsoever with “English-only” speaking people. However, when the role requires you to speak German then language skills are an imparative and nothing else. Just to put things into perspective, I am German myself, work in London and I guarantee you, it’s not that simple not to be a native English speaker and starting a job here or applying and you get overlooked just because they don’t know your education system. Stupid comments from self-explained “open-minded” English people are totally usual. “Who won the war?” is my personal favourite. So some people better get over it or simply shut up!!!!

  12. I got a job at a French bank but I found out that there are three set of rules, one for the French senior staff (could get away with murder), one for the French speaking staff (could get away with a lot) and one for the non French staff (could get life sentence for stealing an apple…). I may sound that I exaggerate but the bottom line is that French seem to think that anything which does not originate from them is non-existent. I work for an American Bank now and the general attitude is that people should be judged by their qualities not their language speaking abilities. Of course the back stubbing that exists everywhere is present but at least you know that you know that you are on an even game….

    Non French senior professional Reply
  13. my wife in in consumer industry and worked in four different countries – nect to mother tongue she speaks of course English, German, Polish, French – just because she lived in these countries – and all languages learnt on Saturday morning 4hours single student lessons….if you go abroad learn the language and take the culture or stay at home and be happy

  14. reply to:Anonymous, Compliance / Legal, Tue 18 Sep 07
    i suppose you are a BNP or french! i dont know, because i did not go to second stage of interviewing. BNP is French in everything, from business to attitude, this is obvious! No offence, but among all foreign interviewers i had in UK banks, only french ones expect you to speak french; even if it’s not on the job requirements. if you don’t, they will certainly favour candidates who do; far more than others favour their language speakears!

  15. I have recently been offered a quant job by BNP Paribas. Yet I’m not French and neither were any of the people who interviewed me. So I don’t think BNP is horribly French (it would be nice if it was, no? 35 hour working week :) ) So for a junior position it’s clearly not a problem.

    Anyway in the long run a bank that hires not the best people, but just people from a certain group, any group, won’t be as successful as one that choses people purely on merit.

    Anonymous Coward Reply
  16. Having been the only “asian” in the MO management team at one French bank I soon found myself being the only non-French speaker in Franco-Belgian meetings. Needless to say the attitude of the French is to look after ones own. Senior management once made a rascist gaffe in a presentation when asked about FO opportunities in India. The remark was that people in the country were far too limited and that the “superior” Europeans would continue to dominate.

  17. If you are doing business in London, one of the most if not the most international financial hub, you may be expected to speak more than one language… It’s bad to fill senior positions only with Germans, but it’s great to fill them with German-speaking people, and most of them are Germans so…

  18. Mr Thruth…………., Accounting, define “meaningful employment” What you wrote is false, there a loads of African name/African accent with meaningful employment e.g Tidjane Thiam is the Group Chief Executive for Aviva Europe,

    Get your facts right, man!!!!!

    African name with ”deep” African Accent Reply
  19. What a joke this guy is…just trying to squeeze money out of Dresdner. During all the years I worked at Dresdner it was actually always the opposite way! Big mobbing out of London, replacing all German managers with arrogant English ones. Interestingly, nobody thought about sueing the bank for discrimination at that time…

  20. French banks want french, German wants germans, English wants english, Arab Banks want arabic speaking, this is true. It is not discrimination. It is market practice.

    Only USA banks take everyone, whatever their colour or language or ethnicity, because what matters is the ability and intelligence of the individual. Then complain why the USA banks are so good ?

  21. I don’t think any of these general statements are universally true. It really depends on a specific team composition, its head and the general management’s attitude towards diversification. I do tend to agree that the French are worst and most cliquish (my brother in law head to learn French to work at French Pharma in New Jersey for a US only role that did not need any French capabilities, but he did not mind).

    If you end up in a German-speaking team in a German bank in the London, I could imagine that there is an issue with everyone having to switch to English because of one new arrival. Having said that, I don’t imagine this would be any different for French, Spanish or Italian speakers- or Banks in the city. The only notable exception I’d like to highlight are the Swiss. In most large companies English is the official language and people for the most part do not seem to mind embracing it as most of the Swiss are multilingual anyway. But don’t see a new language as an obstacle, embrace it and benefit, already the polyglots outnumber the monolingual in business.

  22. In Germany this could be the case indeed. Take the East Europeans – much more motivated and skilled, but since not Germans with fluent German, they are easily disadvantaged. Most German banks prefer to hire locals with medium level of knolwedge, since they look like them. If competition in Germany was on same level as in US, it would be a bit different. It is actually a EU vs. US institutional culture and traditions.

  23. Well, native speakers of English should learn languages too…

  24. Well, as a foreigner in London, i can tell you that you need to speak English very well (not that straightforward for non-native speakers, but then, how would the English know…), even for Europe focused roles. Not to mention that you’d better have an MSc from a UK University, as “international” banks don’t understand your educational system (“Is a Laurea/Diplom the same as a UK BSc?”. What makes you think that the Germans/French/Spanish don’t have the right to do exactly the same? Btw, about US banks, have you noticed the proportion of US or US educated people in management?

  25. I believe that if it had to do with some ‘technical’ qualifications he would not claim for anything. But because it had to do with a skill he didn’t have, he’s upset. Let me put a different situation. He had a ACCA and a french guy didn’t. For an accountant role he was chosen. So, the french guy should also sue the bank claiming discrimination because they chose the guy who had a certain skill that he didn’t.

  26. Didnt the guy ever think about learning german at some point? At the end of the day, Dresdner is a german bank.

    It’s almost like an overseas student suing a UK university because they rejected him due to his terrible english, despite the institution claiming to be a “global university”.

  27. I currently work in London but I started as an analyst in a US investment bank in Russia. All my team members at that time were Russian and so were our clients. However I would have never ever ever got that job, if I had not spoken English. This was one of the top requirements in the job spec. I have never thought about it as a discrimination though. If you are in Rome…

  28. this is not a language issue, it’s a culture issue. not matter how good your french is, my experience is BNP would rather bring over management from Paris, than promote London based talent. Diversity is not inherent in their culture.

  29. Everything could have been simpler if esperanto was the universal working language: everyone would have to learn it and it would be noone’s mother tongue…

  30. I don’t think the issue is anything to do language. The Executive Management of European banks only ‘trust their own’. I have worked in a Dutch bank, where it was often said, “if you are not Dutch, you are not much”. Thankfully, the American and UK Banks have a more open attitude

  31. speaking from personal experience, rule is simple at BNPP. If you’re not French you will get to a certain point and find a wall which will take you a lifetime to get through.the word “MERITOCRACY” or its likes DOES NOT EXIST in the French mentality .its more about which school you went to and how much applied math you have studied than your ability per se.

    As a non French person its best to work there for a couple of years,learn the technical stuff BNPP claims to boast in derivatives,pack your backs and go to the Americans or the Brits who AT LEAST give you MERITOCRACY.

    After that its all about how much work you put in and how far you can push yourself but at least like someone else said in this debate , YOU’RE ON A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD.

    When you compare 2 Batsmen , make them stand in front of a bowling machine , GIVE THEM THE SAME BAT , and let them show their skill. The concept of the SAME BAT is what the Americans and Brits understand, the French somehow have never learnt this at Baccalaureat !

  32. What are you complaining about? German Banks have german headquaters, you have to be realistic, if your reporting into the the headcourters it will definatly help to have that native language. PC RUBBISH… running late = typos

  33. I am moving to Germany and trying to learn the language so I can get some work!

  34. I was a foreign student in France, then got employed in BNPP. In France, first of all, your entry salary depends on which school you went to, it’s not informal, it is written in the description of job. Then most of the heads of big companies (not only banks) are occupied the people from THE best engineering school.When they get retired at age 60, in their CVs, you may not find what have they done during 20(out of 40)years in their career, but it is sure that you will find they are from THAT school…

  35. I actually got a job in a French bank, I am not French but all the “profit booking centres” around the bank are dominated by the French, who are getting bigger bonuses because of that and have many more options than the rest of us to switch jobs if they don’t like what they do. The odd non-French tends to be educated in France. Some clever (American) bank, actually implements diversity policies, and MD compensations are connected to how their desk scores in diversity. Still they seem to prefer graduates from American schools. And do you want to talk about the fact that if in a desk there is an Oxford graduate he will prefer to hire the old boys? Same thing applyes to Ecole Politechnique or NYU. My suggestion is: do like Woody Allen, take the money and run.

    Non-French banker in French bank Reply
  36. Well this is a German Bank, and it is natural that Germans will be favoured. You can’t take away patriotism/nationalism from business.

  37. I am definitely not a lawyer, but my common sense there is a case of discrimination if this guy was hired and promoted as a non-German speaker and/or if this guy was hired or promoted without the condition to learn German at least at a pre-specified level within specified period of time.

  38. Kanayo : after two years from a merge I still receive emails in German.. is patriotism/nationalism something excluding well manners ?

  39. American banks are us as bad. I used to work in the fixed income asset management division of one of the 2 largest American banks. Global Head of Fixed sat in NYC. Guess what? Even the crap American VPs were always promoted up to MD.

  40. Dresdner’s problem is not that it is racist, rather that it is nepotistic, ultra-political and consistently fails either to spot or retain talent.

  41. I used to work for a Japanese Bank. the situation is even worser. All department heads are Japanese & almost all are terrible, in terms of knowledge, mindset, work attiudes. Even worser, it doesnt matter whether you can speak their language. You simply wont lead a team no matter how hard you work & how smart you are.

    Ex-staff in Jap bank Reply

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