Firing people in France is a bit like that George Clooney movie Up In The Air, where he’s parachuted in to deliver the bad news, except with fewer tears and more wild gesticulation and the threat of violence.
I’ve worked in senior jobs within predominantly French investment banks over the last 20 years, in London, New York and Paris. Each and every time I’ve had to lay people off in France, I’ve had a bodyguard on hand in the room – you just never know how it’s going to go. The presence of security at least tends to put people off leaping across the table and throttling you.
Firing people in France is near impossible. There are so many unions and laws protecting the rights of employees, people just don’t expect it. But this is investment banking – restructures happen all the time, banks expand and contract as easily as a hyperventilating field mouse. French people, at the least those in France, don’t know how to handle it. I say this, by the way, as a proud Frenchman.
Brexit is being painted as a potential disaster for the City of London and also a miraculous homecoming for a whole tribe of French or German bankers just waiting for an opportunity to move home. But if it ends up being just a whole load of French and German people heading back to the motherland, it’ll be bad for these new Continental European operation.
Aside from the firing issue, there’s a bigger problem. I’ve been there at the outset when French banks moved into London. Essentially, what it enabled us to do was move from a model of employing predominantly French traders, sales and research professionals in Paris to having the pick of the best international talent on the ground in London.
This is a huge advantage. Not only have the best people flocked to London, meaning that if you’re able to recruit the right people, you have every chance of competing against the best international banks.
But it’s also much easier to get rid of people if they’re not working out. The last thing you want if you’ve hired a duffer is to have to navigate complex employment laws in order to be able to show them the door. London is all about survival of the fittest, you can either cut it or you’re out. And I’ve never needed a burly 6 foot man behind me to deliver the news.
Louis Brodeur, a pseudonym, is a former senior trader at a French bank in London