It has never been harder to be a French banker in London.
You risk losing your job if you stay in here, but you’ll be taxed and persecuted if you go home. Anyone fancy paying 75% tax on your income? The diminutive Mr Hollande would rather reduce the tricolore nation’s retirement age than tax high-earners at a level that actually incentivises them to work hard.
It didn’t used to be like this. In the past, French banks were a haven. If you were a moderately good French banker in search of a few lifestyle advantages, you’d go for one of your national organisations in place of the more prestigious and better paying American, Japanese or Swiss banks. Once you were in, you were there for life.
At the same time, the good French bankers were working in some of the most powerful positions and highest revenue generating areas of the City. It was like a cabal. Only it wasn’t the Freemasons or the Bilderbergers, but rather a small clique of smart and very commercial former graduates of the French “Grandes Ecoles”.
The best examples of this were the brothers, Michael and Yoel Zaoui, who rose to top mergers and acquisitions roles at Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. They worked on opposite sides of some of the period’s biggest takeover battles, including the $58bn deal creating French energy giant Total SA and Vodafone’s $137bn hostile bid for Mannesmann AG.
Unsurprisingly, mini French colonies have been established in certain parts of London, notably South Kensington, Holland Park and Marylebone. And even though no true Frenchman would visit Paul Patisserie, it was a source of pride that the chain had displaced Starbucks as London’s breakfast coffee joint du choix.
Now, however, French banks are making redundancies in London. French bankers who lose their jobs here of fearful of what lies in wait back home. And those who do go back are not necessarily heading to La Defense.
I have one close friend and former colleague who decided to escape the banking world for a corporate role in his father’s business in Paris. He got married and settled into life in the head office based in an unglamorous arrondissmen in the south, a far cry from his former world of nightclubs, Knightsbridge apartments and Nobu dinners. It was a lifestyle decision, he confided in me when I visited him last year. Somehow, I doubt it.
The author has worked across a number of investment banking roles.