If there are investment bankers hanging out in Birmingham, then the Lord Clifden, a gastro pub in Birmingham’s trendy Jewellery Quarter, doesn’t seem to be attracting them. “I haven’t come across any of our customers who’s admitted to being a banker,” barmaid Sarah told us.”They’re all professionals, students and normal people.”
Alan Weaver, Midlands Policy Officer for the TUC in Birmingham, told us that he hasn’t come across a preponderance of people with slicked back hair and red braces either. “It’s news to me that Birmingham is becoming gentrified by bankers,” he said. “But then, I don’t go down to Brindley Place [the new financial district] very often.
“How would you recognize an investment banker anyway?” Weaver asked.
Identifying investment bankers isn’t always easy. Gordon Gekko is not an accurate template and most people with bank jobs in Birmingham’s Brindley Place aren’t investment bankers anyway. RBS has some call centre staff there, for example. “There’s been a big financial sector in Birmingham for years,” said Weaver, “but not all of these bank jobs are well paid.”
The investment bankers are coming to Birmingham
And yet, things are changing in Birmingham. Britain’s second city is starting to attract bankers – and not just tellers and telephonists, but investment bankers in the sense of traders, equity sales people, equity researchers and people who structure financial products.
Deutsche Bank is behind the banker-ization of Birmingham. While RBS is making up to 400 job cuts in the city, the German bank is hiring high-paid investment bankers there. Erik Simonsen, head of Corporate Banking and Securities at Deutsche’s Birmingham operation, told us it’s looking for debt and equity sales people, company researchers and structurers.
Deutsche has had a ‘near-shoring’ centre in Birmingham since 2008, but electronic trading has made it possible for the bank to shift so-called ‘front office’ banking jobs there too. As a result, Deutsche is opening a trading floor in Birmingham and plans to add 150 people to its current headcount of around 1,000 by the end of this year. 100 of the hires have already been made. Simonsen the new recruits are comprised of both senior and junior investment bankers. Some are relocating (voluntarily) from Deutsche’s offices in London. All of them will work on a ‘low touch’ approach to trading for mid-market clients who require a less attentive service than the hedge funds and institutional investors based in London.
What Birmingham offers the bankers
So what is the secret of Birmingham’s charm? At first its not entirely clear: Unlike its northern rival Leeds, Birmingham doesn’t have a full version of the upscale store Harvey Nichols (although it does have a smaller ’boutique’ format). Nor does it have associative appeal: in the past, Birmingham was best known for its heavy industry, for the 1960s Bullring Centre commercial district and for an interchange of roads known as the Spaghetti Junction.
Birmingham is changing though. The 1960s Bullring has been replaced with a building resembling a giant space age cushion. Inside this is a Selfridges, an Apple Store and Armani. By the end of this year, Birmingham will also have its own John Lewis shop, a must have for the British middle classes.
Simonsen said Deutsche bankers from London are keen to move to Birmingham for lifestyle reasons. Birmingham offers an appealing mix of urban density and suburban convenience, he said. Time spent travelling to work is much shorter: 10-20 minutes instead of 45-75 minutes in London. “The extra 1-2 hours of personal time that this gets you each day can be a huge advantage,” said Simonsen, “particularly in an industry known for long hours.”
We spoke to some junior Deutsche bankers in Birmingham, but none were forthcoming about the joys of the city – all had been instructed not to speak to the press. However, Lisa Meredith, a director at recruitment firm Willow Resourcing and former recruiter for Deutsche Bank in Birmingham said she was “surprised” how easily enamoured London financial services professionals were with Birmingham’s combination of short commuting times, attractive property, good schools and an easily accessible city centre.
Sometime soon, it may even be possible to live in London and commute to a banking job in Birmingham (or vice versa). The British government is investing in a high speed rail link between the two cities. “High speed 2 is coming – supposedly,” said Hamish Wilson, principal economist at Birmingham City Council. “You should be able to travel here from London in 20-45 minutes.”
Whether bankers would be able to afford to live in London and commute to Birmingham is questionable, however. The most salary survey from recruitment firm Robert Walters suggests that Birmingham’s banking salaries are 64% the level of London’s.
And what the bankers bring to Birmingham
It’s not all one-sided. Birmingham’s bankers aren’t just feasting on the city’s urban/suburban fusion and then retiring to their loft apartments in the Jewellery District or their suburban homes in Moseley, Sutton Colefield and Solihull. Deutsche Bank is doing its bit for the city.
“Deutsche Bank is a big supporter of ours,” said Richard Sproson, facilities manager at the Ikon Gallery in Brindley Place. “They are our corporate patron and have sponsored us for many years.” Amy Stowell, events manager at the appropriately named Bank Bar in Brindely Place confirmed that Deutsche is a corporate client of theirs. And Billy Sighu of Baguette du Monde said she gets a daily rush of Deutsche employees demanding bacon and egg sandwiches and paninis.
Once the traders move in to Brindley Place, Sighu may need to open earlier in the morning: most are at their desks by 7am and many are accustomed to buying premium priced coffees in advance. In this way, the new bankers may spread some wealth. “Financial services is one of the key sectors we’re targeting for the city,” said Wilson. “It brings high value jobs which have a multiplier effect and create a variety of other service sector jobs.”
Weaver at the TUC is keen to point out that Birmingham isn’t all about banking, however. “There’s still a lot of people working in the public sector and the automotive industry here too,” he informed us.