Whenever a financial services organisation talks about expansion within the UK outside of London, it’s invariably associated with ‘nearshoring’, shared services or some other method of cutting costs.
For EY, which has big plans for its regional offices – particularly for its financial services tax division – it’s more about offering a clear path to progression for its employees and showing that you can have a rewarding career outside of London.
“A lot of people move to London because of the opportunity, but don’t necessarily want to stay there for the entirety of their career,” says Jeff Soar, financial services tax partner at EY. “We’re expanding our regional operations and want to show that you can live outside the capital city and still meet your career aspirations.”
The whole perception of the UK financial services industry being centred around London is no longer the reality. HSBC and Deutsche Bank have been expanding their operations in Birmingham. Scotland’s £800bn asset management industry has been complemented by significant operations from banks like Morgan Stanley and J.P. Morgan, the insurance industry is growing in the South West and Wales, while the building societies in Leeds and Manchester now have been joined by challenger banks.
“The UK financial sector is no longer dominated by London and we want to build our business to reflect this,” says Soar.
EY’s financial services tax practice has around 450 people in its regional offices across the UK including Newcastle, Manchester and Leeds, Edinburgh, Bristol and Exeter. “We have 900 people in the FS tax division right now, and the plan is to be 1,000 before the end of 2016 – at least half of these will be in the regional offices.”
EY has been offering London-based employees the chance to relocate to the regions and so far this has been well-received, says Soar. What’s more, of the 50 EY partners in the financial services tax division, 12 are based outside of London. The whole idea of encountering career stasis by moving out of London no longer holds water.
“I commute an hour and half to get into London every day, and there are people who spend £6,000 a year on train tickets and four hours a day getting in and out of work,” says Soar. “This is my choice, but there’s a growing contingent of people who’d like to move out of London and not have to sacrifice their career.”
Moving to a role in a smaller UK city has the lifestyle advantage of being able to walk or cycle to work, as well as buying bigger property and escaping the bustling City. But it’s not just about this, says Soar.
“A lot of our employees in the regions feel more connected to the business community than they would in London and are active members of that community,” says Soar. “It makes it slightly easier to have deeper connections with your clients.”
EY’s financial services tax arm is a £100m business and has grown at 22% during the course of 2016, says Soar. The plan is for it to be twice the size within four years, and EY wants to bring in expertise to meet those ambitions.
What skills is it looking for currently? “We’re looking for technical expertise, whether that’s compliance, indirect tax transfer, pricing, transaction tax or cross-border experience. For us, it’s more about the technical knowledge – financial services expertise is the icing on the cake.”
“For many employees, it’s about combining a dynamic career with a new lifestyle. It’s a great option to offer people who no longer feel London is the place for them.”