CLICK HERE to view the report in PDF or scroll down

Authored by Philippa Futter, Leathwaite.

Brexit and Trump are two words that we can’t seem to steer clear of. As an executive interim consultant, who owns the regulatory agenda for Leathwaite, there will be no escaping it for me either.

Combined with the impending activation of Article 50 and a bout of forthcoming European elections, I set out to understand more about how this is likely to impact and influence the UK’s new regulatory agreements with our European counterparts and where the biggest challenges will lie.

Subsequently, will Brexit force a rethink in terms of resourcing?

I’ve spent the past few weeks meeting clients and regulatory experts in order to understand the myriad of layers that make up this complex economic and political landscape.

This is what I discovered:

Opinion #1: Global Head of Trading

The first opinion I sought was that of a global head of equity trading. With over 20 years in the market, he is also a well-regarded market commentator, writer, speaker and specialist in market structure and EU financial markets regulation.

“Our current agenda is dominated by MiFID 2. The implementation deadline was in place prior to the referendum, therefore for us, this is BAU.”

Considering the broader implications of Brexit, his response was relatively unconcerned. “From our [company] perspective, it’s too early to tell with Brexit, however, ultimately, it all centres on the Germans and the stance they take and in my opinion Merkel or Schauble will not want to make it awkward for the UK. Although there is much uncertainty, the consensus is that the UK is better – I (and my peers) do not see Canary Wharf / Square Mile relocating their trading floors – there is too much invested here in terms of people and premises.”

He went on to describe that “there have been plenty of reports highlighting EU Trade and Finance ministers courting UK firms to relocate – but it’s all noise in my view. There was news in the past few weeks that BAML has its lease coming to an end for its huge London office. And guess what – it is trying to find new office space in London, not Dublin or Paris or Frankfurt.”

Also, as he rightly pointed out, “most of the large multi-national investment banks already have footprints in multiple EU regions – meaning they will use the passporting rights from one of those locations to carry multi-jurisdictional capital markets cross border trading.”

“I expect that its UK trading floors will likely carry on providing all the market side trading, and continue booking trades back to the EU booking centres. No problem. Equally, UK based banks or asset managers with ‘UK Only’ buildings, trade for UK based entities anyway – so no change there either.”

His main concern (from an employment shift perspective) was towards the US Banks with a US Head office and one EU office (based in the UK), as these companies may need to set up a sales office/branch in one EU country and handle their EU relationships from there – BUT they could continue to keep sales and trading in London and pipe orders across. However, this will naturally be influenced by their mix of business and if they still have a UK client base they will require ‘boots on the ground’ to ensure those relationships continue.

Opinion #2: Regulatory Affairs Lawyer

Next I sought the opinion of a senior international lawyer, responsible for Regulatory Affairs for a market leading investment manager. She advises on significant regulatory and compliance matters in EMEA, including Brexit.

“The first factor to appreciate is that the pace of Brexit is far in excess of the speed at which we can change laws, therefore firms will need to build their immediate strategy around current legislation if they wish to continue BAU.”

Consequently, she expects firms to be pursuing a strategy of ‘protectionism’ thereby ensuring that they have local branch structures in place to safeguard continued access to the EU, then refining their strategy as the negotiations develop.

She continued to explain that, “in the longer term, I see the market becoming much more fragmented, with specific countries or regimes forming for different purposes. For example, the UK may become a more attractive destination for certain businesses, whereas Germany might be better for others.”

“Considering the future? Brexit, the recent US election and the forthcoming EU elections are all undoubtedly causing massive disruption and change within the FS sector. However, I see these only as the start for an even greater period of change, where the entire global FS landscape becomes far less about ‘boots on the ground’ and more about leveraging the value of technology.”

Will firms ultimately relocate?

“This will be decided by the respective ‘cost of talent’ within different countries,” was her response, explaining that “firms will evaluate a multitude of factors that will affect the cost of talent, including: availability / scarcity of skills, tax, work ethic, skill levels, culture.”

Opinion #3: Head of Transformation

I then sought the insight of a Managing Director with 25 years’ experience in the market. Having held various senior titles from EMEA Head of Governance to Partner at a Management Consulting firm, I was interested to hear the perspective of a senior executive who now runs large scale transformation for a banking giant.

His opinion was that the EU is at a pivotal point, and making it ‘too easy’ for the UK to re-negotiate terms with the EU could raise questions from the other member states as to why they should not pursue a similar route to the UK:

“I know that most people think the transition will be smooth, but I think the EU might aim to ‘set an example’ with the UK to justify the benefits of remaining within the single market to the other member states.”

He also felt that that was a clear difference of opinion regarding Brexit when comparing people in the UK to mainland Europe, emphasising that “when you speak to people in the UK they speak as if not much has changed or will change. Yet, having the same conversation in Frankfurt (for example) is very different; they will say ‘you’ve left Europe and you’re now competing against us’.”

He stressed that his company are approaching Brexit just as they would with any other large-scale project:

“Once we know what we’re dealing with, we’ll break it down into small pieces and begin our response – just like we would with any other project.”

Does London offer more talent choices than the EU?

His opinion was that currently London offers a far greater proposition to businesses with regards to talent, but that could all change if our future access to the EU is not suitable:

“When people say to me ‘London is the only place to do business like this’, I think the statement is irrelevant. It is only good because of the access we have to the single market, which in turn has been a key reason why we can offer the greatest concentration and choice of talent. Yet, if the access to the market (EU) is taken away, it won’t matter. Businesses MUST have that access and will find ways to achieve this.”

When concluding our conversation, he drew me back to a previous period in the UK’s economic history:

“I feel I’m a minority voice [with regards to the potential level of change that Brexit may cause in the long-term] – many of my peers remain convinced that most things won’t change. Yet, I remember back to when post-war Britain was an industrial giant – manufacturing was an industry bedrock – it employed 40 per cent of our workforce. Today it’s a very different story, globalisation has taken care of that; it taught me to never say never.”

Opinion #4: Regulatory Expert

To obtain my final perspective on how Brexit could impact the UK employment market, I sought the opinion of a leading consultant within the regulatory field. With an excess of fifteen years’ industry experience, focusing on derivatives, central clearing, risk management and transparency and market economics, he has an in-depth knowledge of global financial markets and associated regulations (including EMIR, Dodd Frank, Basel III, MiFID II/MiFIR, amongst others). He regularly presents at regulatory conferences and training courses.

“Right now, we still don’t know what the future landscape will look like,” was his immediate response. “The key priority for the UK is to establish passporting or equivalence – until we understand how this will look, we will not be able to forecast the impact on jobs. However, in my opinion, if we are NOT part of a single market, thousands of jobs could cease to exist.”

Yet, he followed by highlighting that “the City of London is a huge bargaining chip, especially due to the high proportion of trading venues like the LME (MTF and OTF) that are based in London.”

However, his main concern was that “in the past, London has been hugely instrumental and influential in turning proposals into practical legislation – if we leave, we will not have a pen at the table, potentially meaning that we’ll need to comply with the rules, without having the ability to influence them.”

I asked if making the City of London a ‘tax haven’ would help, he expressed that “tax benefits would not help us if we don’t negotiate suitable access to the EU, thus customers.”

Yet, it was his closing remark that left me with much to consider:

“If we fail to negotiate suitable access to the EU, thousands of companies will have far less reason to base themselves in London.”

Summary

When I set about my investigation of this topic I expected to uncover a sector going through mass change and uncertainty, yet I was struck by the diverse range of perspectives that individuals held.

It is clear, through the lack of consensus, that it is too early to call the outcome of the political risk events unfolding. It is also clear that the structure of different organisations will have a direct impact on how they facilitate their business and resourcing going forward in the new world.

London won’t suddenly cease to matter, but there will be some structural shifts and net winners and losers along the way.

In the short term, it appears that we are caught in a holding pattern; lots to deliberate and so much to play for.

The forecast is undoubtedly one of change. However, we are left with many short and medium term regulatory deliverables, which regardless of the outcome of political events, need to be delivered on.

As I reviewed the various perspectives, I kept returning to this statement:

“London is a strong bargaining chip; there is too much invested here, and the city offers a far greater proposition with regards to talent.”

The uncertainty of the longer term resourcing requirements, coupled with these short and medium term deliverables, can be best solved through the use of the executive interim market, which provides access to requisite skills via a flexible engagement model.

More information and contact details:

Leathwaite is a Human Capital Specialist offering executive interim and executive search services, management consulting and business intelligence solutions, partnering with some of the world’s most ambitious and innovative firms.

Philippa Futter is a Consultant within the executive interim practice, specialising in providing SME resource/senior consultants in to front office, operations, risk and compliance with a significant focus on delivering business change and transformation solutions, coupled with building out regulatory change teams by providing senior resource. Philippa has 15+ years` industry experience, having recruited into the financial services industry since 2000, including MD-level appointments.

Philippa can be contacted at +44 207 151 5151 or philippa.futter@leathwaite.com