Why London bankers love (some) U.S. investment banks

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Ideal banking employers in the UK

Once a year, typically just after Christmas, U.S. investment banks in the U.K. release figures showing how much they paid their highest earning and most important employees two years previously. Usually startlingly high, the sums are enough to evoke indignation in people who think bankers are overpaid – and aspiration in those who might want to work in banking themselves.

The highest paying banks among the U.S. group are typically the duo of Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan, whose regulated staff earned £1m and £1.1m respectively in 2016 – the last year for which pay figures are available. It seems no coincidence that these are also British financiers’ two preferred employers according to the 2018 eFinancialCareers Ideal Employer survey.

Shown below, the results to the survey reveal a distinct correlation between British based respondents’ preferences and those of our respondents worldwide: both in the UK and globally, people most want to work for Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan, followed by Google, Morgan Stanley and Blackrock.

British bankers, like global bankers, therefore prefer U.S. firms. Homegrown banks only appear further down the list, with HSBC ranking sixth and Barclays ranking eighth. Swiss bank UBS slips in at seventh. The last two places go to more U.S. banks: Bank of America and Citi.

The pay preference

What makes Goldman and J.P. Morgan particularly popular with bankers in London? Both GS and J.P.M. are perceived (seemingly accurately) to pay more than rivals. London-based survey respondents told us pay remains the key consideration when selecting the employers they aspire to. If you’re a bank in London, therefore, being seen as a high payer matters a lot.

This might help to explain why Deutsche Bank, despite basing its investment bank in London, is nowhere to be seen in our new top 10 ranking. Although Deutsche Bank paid handsomely in the 2018 bonus round (for 2017), the vast majority of its bankers had their bonuses cancelled for the previous year. Rightly or wrongly, banks practising this particular technique of cost reduction risk creating irredeemable damage to their employer brands.

British financiers’ favourite employers don’t just have a reputation for generous compensation, however. Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, Morgan Stanley and Blackrock, are also seen as offering opportunities to, “work with key industry players.” Blackrock and Google, especially, are perceived as offering “challenging work.” And Morgan Stanley (like Goldman Sachs) is considered to offer good opportunities for promotion.

Google’s great office has not gone unnoticed

Google’s third place ranking in a list of finance professionals’ preferred employers merits a particular mention. The technology firm owes its success to the perception that the work there is especially interesting, that it’s a superlative innovator, and that its office environment is unusually nice.

The latter may apply as much to Google’s impending London headquarters at King’s Cross as to existing London office in Soho. The latter benefits from its own pool and rooftop garden, manifold cushioned seating areas, and a curious take on the ping-pong table. The former, which is currently under construction, will have its own 25 metre pool and massage rooms. It will also have another rooftop garden, equipped with woodland walk and wild flower areas, plus with a trail for runners.

Google’s reputation for beautiful offices has become part of its employer brand: 83% of respondents to our survey said office environment was one of Google’s strengths. At Goldman Sachs, just 40% did. Goldman is also in the process of building its own London HQ (at Farringdon); it might want to consider installing wild flower areas and a running track of its own.

No work life balance? No worries

The European banks in our London top 10 (HSBC, Barclays and UBS) weren’t perceived as exceptional in terms of pay, and lost out as a result. However, they partially compensated for this with a reputation for less excoriating working hours than their U.S. rivals.

For example, 45% of people thought working hours at Barclays and 46% at HSBC are manageable, compared to just 13% at Goldman Sachs, 20% at J.P. Morgan and 21% at Morgan Stanley. At UBS, 42% of respondents thought working hours were bearable.

In this case at least, perception may match reality. Our separate survey of sleeping patterns at different banks suggested Goldman Sachs bankers are among the most exhausted globally and that HSBC and UBS bankers are among the least. Curiously, however, comparatively few J.P. Morgan bankers globally said they were exhausted – suggesting that brand perceptions may not always match reality.

The Brexit advantage that wasn’t

The eFinancialCareers UK Ideal Employer survey results confirm that British banking remains in thrall to the “Wimbledon effect” – London provides the location, but the leading players are almost all non-Brits.

This presents a looming threat to London’s strength as a financial centre post-Brexit. Goldman Sachs is already in the process of moving staff to Frankfurt in preparation for the new reality. It’s also hiring in Paris and Milan - although the jobs in Milan are understood to be the result of a global push towards localization in the investment banking division, rather than anything Brexit related. J.P. Morgan, meanwhile, has indicated that it could move up to 4,000 of its 16,000 UK jobs to Europe in the years after Brexit takes place.

As British-based financiers’ preferred employers move jobs overseas, there’s a clear danger that staff currently based in the UK will choose to move with them. Equally, though, there’s a possibility that the City of London’s own employer brand will triumph. Post-Brexit, will Goldman Sachs in Frankfurt be as appealing as Goldman Sachs in London? – Or will British banks like Barclays, which have promised to move comparatively few jobs to Europe, rise up through the ranks? This is a question for future survey respondents. For the moment, however, there’s little sign that British bankers are choosing British banks ahead of their U.S. favourites.

View the complete 2018 Ideal Employer Global Rankings

Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Contact: sbutcher@efinancialcareers.com

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