If you work in the City of London, the general verdict seems to be that a vote to leave the European Union on June 23rd will be a bad thing for your career. A poll on our homepage currently suggests 56% of you think a ‘Brexit’ will be either quite or very bad for your job. This is unsurprising: come-Brexit, Goldman Sachs has issued several warnings about its intention to move staff out of the UK and banks like Credit Suisse are already busy moving traders to Dublin.
Would Continental Europe’s finance professionals really ditch London if Britain leaves the EU though? After all, many have spent their entire careers in the City, have children at British schools, and drink tea instead of coffee…
We asked 25 non-British European finance professionals who are either working in London now or who have worked in London in the recent past for their opinions on the pleasures of London – or not. Given that London ranks 72nd in the recent Mercer Quality of Life index, versus 7th for Frankfurt, wouldn’t they rather be living elsewhere?
This is what they said.
“I have no commitment to London whatsoever”
This was a common sentiment – and not just among young finance professionals with no roots in the UK. Most continental Europeans in the City still have families or girlfriends in their home countries. Many are here for the jobs and not much else. If the jobs are on offer at home, home they will go.
“I would rather move to Milan! In short I like living in London as long as it is the EU,” said one senior hedge fund manager from Italy.
“My family’s in Milan and I commute a lot,” echhoed another Italian hedge fund manager in London. “The advantage of being in London has been that it’s a global and European hub – even though it’s expensive and quite difficult to live in. If Brexit takes some of these hub characteristics away, then Paris or Frankfurt – or Milan – will probably end up being good substitutes.”
“Paris and Frankfurt offer better job security than London,” said a director at a European bank. However, until now he said they haven’t offered any decent jobs: “I would definitely consider moving to Paris for the right opportunity.”
A Swedish M&A banker who’s lived in London said he’d rather live in Paris or Zurich than London: “Paris is a cool city to live in.” – The implication being that London is not.
“The Brexit vote is a betrayal”
Some London-based Europeans expressed annoyance at the fact that they stand to be ‘rejected’ and forced to apply for a visa to stay here despite paying years of income tax in the UK.
“If the UK were to leave the EU, I would consider moving,” says one German finance communications professional. “I’ve been a loyal taxpayer in the UK for a very long time, and the prospect of having to arrange a green card or similar to stay here is making me mad….. I’d probably go to Frankfurt. ”
“The British are lower calibre than the Europeans and London would struggle without us”
Another German finance communications professional in London said the Britons in the City tend to be less competent than their counterparts from the EU. “If you’re English, it’s all about which private school you attended and where you went to university,” he says. “In Germany, that’s a lot less important and most people have at least a higher degree.”
The Europeans in the City are often a lot more international than the Britons, he added. They’re the ones working in a foreign language and foreign culture and the mere fact of their presence indicates their higher calibre: “You have to be more flexible, more motivated and better educated to succeed abroad than at home.”
“If the UK leaves the EU, living in London could become even more expensive”
Irrespective of the value of the pound, one senior trader and student with a German husband, said she foresees life in the City becoming more onerous if the UK is outside the EU: “Firstly we would have to move my husband to a partner visa, which would be a hassle. Secondly, a lot of our friends have kids and they have EU au pairs. If bringing EU au pairs into the UK became more difficult then it would certainly have a lot of financial consequences for families.”
“London’s not what it used to be”
An Italian fixed income salesman said he’d move: “I like living in London but I wouldn’t mind at all living in Paris/Frankfurt – or even better, Milan. In London salaries are decreasing compared to 5-6 years ago while house prices have surged a lot. I feel like London is not as appealing as it was in the past.”
“London has linguistic advantages”
“English is the language on the job and in the street in London,” said one senior investment banking auditor from Spain. “You don’t get that in – say, Paris.”
“London is more dynamic and international”
“As a non-German/French speaker I only want to live in London, I love it there!,” says one investment banking associate, currently in Germany.
“What I particularly liked about London is the international vibe and networking opportunities,” says Jerome Troiano, a former analyst at BarCap who now helps students into finance careers at French business school EDHEC.
“There’s no other place like London,” says another former French M&A banker turned entrepreneur. “The people, the experience, are unmatchable. I’ve tried Paris (a year and a half) in 2004 when it was much safer than now…and it’s a very difficult place for a non-French to operate. Frankfurt is a dead city past 6pm.”
But Berlin is best
Lastly, one European banking analyst who now lives in Berlin, says City people are missing a trick if they don’t try the German capital. “I bought a flat in Berlin for €46k. I’ve got a friend who’s paying £540 a month to live in an 8-bedroom house in Golders Green…”