The City of London is a city of French bankers. Graduates from top French schools have long been the brainpower behind the City’s supremacy in structured products and are now helping to create the new generation of risk management systems and artificial intelligence products.
Antonin Jullier, Citi’s London-based global head of equity sales is a graduate of France’s Ecole Polytechnique, as is Sam Wisnia, Deutsche Bank’s head of fixed income structuring and strategic analytics. Pierre Demartines, a director in Blackrock’s data science unit is a graduate of the Institut Polytechnique de Grenoble. The list goes on.
Now that one of their own is in the Elysee Palace will these storied French bankers who’ve helped make the City what it is want to go home again? For some at least, the answer is yes.
“I would go back to France now, yes,” says one French salesman at Goldman Sachs in London, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Macron is very European focused and this is a good signal for both political and fiscal stability.”
“This is just a reminder for us of the other – Brexit – vote,” says a French managing director at a Swiss bank in London. “You have one country inviting us home and the other that’s sadly pushing us out! The energy in France from Macron’s election is something we crave and it’s something that that’s been sorely missing in London lately.”
Although Frankfurt has latterly emerged as banks’ preferred location of any front office jobs which move from London after Brexit, Paris – together with Amsterdam – regularly ranks as bankers’ preferred place to live. The French capital has already been luring banks with favourable tax rates for expats. Macron himself has said he wants “banks, talents, researchers, academics” to move to France after Brexit. So far, however, only HSBC has articulated a plan to move markets staff to Paris, and this is only because it already has a large Paris-based subsidiary with a trading floor. Other banks, like Goldman Sachs, have indicated that only French relationship staff will move to the French capital.
Macron’s arrival could hasten some of these plans. “Having Macron as president will kick-start the relocation of our French sales team and probably some of the Benelux coverage too,” says one Credit Suisse salesman. “Our Paris-based managers are saying yes to any salespeople who want to relocate to Paris after these elections. We’re expecting announcements in June and relocation early next year.”
Plenty of French bankers are not preparing to pack up and go soon though. “I’m delighted with today’s result but it is unlikely to make me want to move back to France, to be honest,” says one MD at Credit Suisse. “Personally, this changes nothing for me,” agrees a salesman at RBC. “Life is better for us in London,” says a former Credit Suisse banker and private equity professional. “We like the dynamism of the city, the fact that it’s a real cultural melting pot and the feeling that there’s no limit here.”
“Success is viewed well in London and it inspires everyone which drives people higher,” he adds. “If you want to have an accomplished career in finance, there’s no better place in Europe than London.” One French educated Italian banker who’s worked in both London and Paris says Paris is simply far more parochial’ “When I was in France the market was all pretty much “french.” In London, it’s just a completely different feeling.”
“I don’t think Paris will ever become Europe´s financial centre,” says a French analyst at Morgan Stanley. “France will stay the same, with its strong syndicates and employees’ protection. This is not something that is not valued by the banking industry.”
Macron could change this, but maybe not much and clearly not immediately. Much depends on the shape of Brexit. Much also depends on the outcome of legislative elections in June and the efficacy and stability of the French government. As J.P. Morgan’s banking analysts noted last year, moving operations out of London isn’t just about people but capital, and with hundreds of billions at stake U.S. banks will want new European locations to be as stable as they can be.