How big is Brexodus — the flight of business and people from the City of London in parallel with our exit from the EU? I observed recently that squealing from the Square Mile has been minimal compared to sectors that make and move physical goods — suggesting that banks, insurers and investment houses have quietly completed all the necessary rejigging of domiciles and compliance that will permit them to carry on making money willy-nilly.
There’s been plenty of paddling beneath the City surface. A report by the New Financial thinktank ‘identified 275 firms in the UK that have moved or are moving some of their business, staff, assets or legal entities from the UK to the EU’. Its conservative guess is that £900 billion has left London so far; in terms of company relocations, Dublin is ‘by far the biggest beneficiary’ at 100, ahead of Luxembourg (60), Paris (41), Frankfurt (40) and Amsterdam (32).
The Irish, angry about the border and Brexit damage to other parts of their economy, have hardly trumpeted this gain. The French by contrast, having pitched hard to win business from les rosbifs, have made much of the meagre news that their own BNP Paribas, Crédit Agricole and Société Générale have moved 500 desks back to Paris, while HSBC has redomiciled a handful of subsidiaries in France. Frankfurt has taken in assets and jobs from the likes of Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Citigroup, but has also had to put up with endless sneers about how no banker’s wife would seriously relish moving from Holland Park to Sachsenhausen. Amsterdam’s consolation is a new European hub for NatWest Markets, bringing only about 100 City jobs.
Does all this add up to a lot or a little? None of these destinations come close to rivalling the mass of financial activity, floor space and skilled staff that have long sustained London’s pre-eminence. Demand for new offices in Canary Wharf, I hear, has never been stronger. And yet — as I also hear from senior City voices — we’re entering an era in which London will be seen as a less prestigious, potent and convenient deal-making arena that also carries the risk of Corbyn seizing power out of chaos. Big-hitting US financiers may decide it’s easier to do business from the place they feel most comfortable, flying into the hell of Heathrow or the tedium of Frankfurt only when they have to. On this theory the biggest Brexodus winner is none of the above, but London’s only real global rival: New York.
Oasis of trade
Back in 2016, I asked how the UK would be seen by others after Brexit: ‘As a beacon of digital research and a red-hot incubator of bioscience’ or as a cut-price shopping stopover that’s ‘little more than a giant Bicester Village’. What with our Optimist portfolio and our Disruptor Awards, I don’t think I could be doing more to promote the first of those alternative futures. But in the coming months — as the pound slumps and bargain-hunters flood in — it’s the second of them that will save our bacon.
Last week I became one of the six million visitors who will sample the Bicester Village experience this year. Announcements in Chinese and Arabic on the train from Maryle-bone give the first clue as to how this economic model works: Bicester is reportedly the second most-visited UK destination for Chinese tourists after Buckingham Palace, while thousands of frequent-shopping Middle Easterners own or rent houses in Milton Keynes down the road. But they’re not here to buy British: the ‘village’ architecture feels American and the majority of its 160 stores are international brands selling merchandise that’s probably made in China.
I bought three apparently English shirts and a Pret sandwich — and glanced into Victoria Beckham’s boutique to see if she might have something for my panto-dame wardrobe. But otherwise what I discovered was a desert oasis of foreign-made goods chasing foreign exchange, out of which our merchants, landlords and taxmen are taking a turn. As a vision of Britain it’s not uplifting; but needs must — and the greater the footfall, the better we’ll survive.
When will they ever learn? Here’s a selection of this week’s fat-cat banker stories. Deutsche Bank, whose troubles I reported last week, doubled the 2018 pay of chief executive Christian Sewing and investment bank boss Garth Ritchie. At Credit Suisse, chief executive Tidjane Thiam enjoyed a 30 per cent pay rise to almost $13 million, despite a 38 per cent fall in the bank’s share price. Over on Wall Street, the heads of the six biggest US banks collected $152 million between them, surpassing their 2008 peak of $141 million. In the City, the chiefs of Lloyds, Barclays, RBS and Standard Chartered came under fire for receiving pension contributions of between 33 and 40 per cent of their base salaries — a multiple of what the vast majority of their staff receive. Banks may be better capitalised, better policed and mostly better behaved than they were a decade ago, but their remuneration scales remain completely haywire.
Riding for a fall
All Yorkshire is agog at the resignation — on ‘health grounds’ but after concerns about his ‘behaviour towards staff’ and expenses — of Sir Gary Verity, the Welcome to Yorkshire tourism supremo. This part-time sheep farmer’s greatest marketing coup, worthy of a business-school case study, was to bring the Tour de France to Leeds in 2014 and to follow it with the annual ‘Tour de Yorkshire’ that has worked miracles for my county’s profile. But he operated with a touch too much swagger for some local liking: on the strength of one lunch encounter, he grandly appointed me a ‘Yorkshire Patron’. Others have criticised him for focusing too much on cycling and not enough on Yorkshire’s other glories: I’d say that’s unfair, but Verity was always riding for a fall.