The Strategist

Europe lures "big finance" from London

02/21/2017 - 15:32

Once the UK leaves the single European market, many London-based banks and financial companies will lose "passports" entitling them to serve clients in other 27 states.

Perhaps, the UK and EU regulatory systems would continue recognize each other. However, no one expects a smooth and quite Brexit; it will rather be a hard and heavy exodus.

The British government plans to launch a two-year transition period until the end of March. Given the time required to obtain approval from the regulators, search of free office space and transfer (or hiring) personnel, financial companies have already started to weigh all available options. London remains the leading center in Europe, but other EU cities are very eager to get a share of the pie.

Most active are Parisians, positioning the French capital as a partner and London colleague.

"I do not think London is our rival - says Valérie Pécresse, representative of Paris Ile-de-France. – We compete not with London, but with Dublin, Amsterdam, Luxembourg and Frankfurt." Observers note, that this statement is especially true for Frankfurt.

Paris has many large domestic banks, companies and international schools than its German competitor. This month, Parisians visited London to present benefits of its city to 80 heads of banks, asset management companies, investment funds and financial technology firms. They tried to dispel image of France as a country where the government constantly interferes in private business, companies pay higher taxes, and citizens do not want to work.

Today, the corporate tax amounts to 33.3% in France, but it should fall to 28% by 2020. Pécresse and other members of her team are also trying to downplay a danger that Marine Le Pen, leader of "National Front" and well-known Eurosceptic, will win the presidential elections this spring.

Hubertus Väth, a spokesman for the Frankfurt authorities, is also confident in his city’s ability to attract a considerable number of bankers. He is especially eager to attract centers of cashless payments in euros. In the past, the ECB tried to entice them from the British capital in the Eurozone, but the EU Court in 2015 ruled that the regulator did not have the power. Apparently, the ECB will soon try to do it again

Luxembourg is also certain in its attractiveness. This is a small country, sandwiched between Belgium, France and Germany. The state is already famous for its high level of expertise in the asset management sector. By the way, China's major banks are using Luxembourg as their main hub in Europe.

Amsterdam recently joined the campaign for luring financiers from London, too. The city boasts with Dutch standards of living and widespread use of English language. However, the financial center of Amsterdam cannot be compared in size with those in Paris and Frankfurt. In addition, the city has a limited living space and not so many schools.

Dublin is trying to attract asset management companies. However, bankers of the Central Bank of Ireland are skeptical about required level of expertise to regulate, for example, a complex trading. The city also lacks office space, housing, roads and other infrastructure.

It is easy to understand the EU countries’ desire to host financial companies from London. Yet, much still depends on what kind of agreement the UK and the EU will sign after Brexit, and what requirements to capital and personnel will be put forward. Banks can also convert part of their business from Europe to New York, Hong Kong or Singapore.