Brexit is coming - probably - unless it's kicked into the long grass for a few more years (which might not be such a bad thing). Banks are rattling sabres about activating their contingency plans on December 1st unless there's not more clarity; Bank of America is readying its new Paris office for opening early in 2019 and reportedly eyeing-up staff to migrate. So what do you say when you get the nudge? While you may have some legal grounds to refuse to move, the advised answer is an unequivocal, "Yes."
"If you want a 10-15 year career in banking, you just say "Yes" when you're asked to move to Europe and you agree to go with your family," says one senior fixed income headhunter who's been working with banks on their plans (and spoken on condition of anonymity). "You're going to need to be fairly ballsy to take a risk and say no in this market, because there's just not a lot of hiring going on in London now anyway."
While it's still early days, this seems to be what's happening with the senior staff who've been commanded to migrate so far. "We already know several expat families who've gone to Paris or Frankfurt," says one expat banker's wife in the British home counties. "This is just what it's like when you're an expat - you're used to chaos and doing what you're told. You get told to go Frankfurt, you go to Frankfurt. It's the mindset. Your husband is in a global career and you expect to move every few years. You're resigned to going anywhere - except maybe Kazakhstan....," she adds. It's not easy - especially when your spouse has a career of their own and has to throw it all in to match the foibles of a finance employer.
The need to acquiesce reflects the comparative lack of control front office bankers in London have over their geographic destinies. Nor is it just locations that are uncertain - with banks like Standard Chartered, BNP Paribas and (allegedly) UBS all making redundancies in recent weeks, there are questions too over job security in the fourth quarter, and bonuses seem likely to be squeezed everywhere. Rarely has the future been so uncertain and the options so limited.
Of course, you can always hedge. The obvious way to do this is to agree to whatever your current employer asks of you whilst making quiet enquiries about the alternatives. Headhunters say this is happening, with Bank of America's London staff in particular putting in calls to see if they can escape the Parisian fate they're being signed-up to. However, vacancies in London remain thin. And banks are increasingly unwilling and unable to indulge staff who want to stay in the City. "All our banking clients are asking us to identify high quality producers who are already in Europe in case London staff won't move," says the head of another London search firm. If you won't go, you won't have a job.
"Banks started off being wary of p*issing off their big producers by demanding that they move," says another headhunter. "- But this is evaporating and now they just want to get on with it."
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