Bank jobs: Dublin may gain while post-Brexit London loses

Dublin may benefit as banks plan London exit
Dublin may benefit as banks plan London exit

London's position as one of the world's premiere financial centers is bound to change in the wake of a vote to leave the European Union.

In coming years, it's highly possible that major companies in London will no longer have unfettered access to the EU — and many firms have voiced a need to move employees elsewhere.

That's where Dublin comes in.

"A lot of businesses in the U.K., in order to stay part of the EU, will expand operating subsidiaries or even redomicile to Ireland," said Brian Jacobsen, chief portfolio strategist at Wells Fargo Funds Management. "Having Dublin become more of a financial center could be part of the longer-term trajectory here."

Dublin has a number of things going for it: First and foremost, as the capital of the Republic of Ireland, it's still in the EU and will continue to enjoy freedom of trade and movement with Europe. It also has close proximity to London and Continental Europe, universal English language fluency, an existing banking presence, and a low tax policy.

"Ireland could be a beneficiary of the chaos that's being caused by this Brexit vote," Jacobsen said, adding that the city's "somewhat similar heritage and language" are appealing.

The country's tax system attracted foreign companies long before the idea of a Brexit. The corporate tax rate is among the lowest in the developed world, at 12.5 percent for trading income, and 25 percent for non-trading income, according to the American Chamber of Commerce in Ireland.

More than 700 U.S. companies, including Apple, Google, Twitter, and Johnson and Johnson operate on the Emerald Isle.

Ireland's economic growth soared from the mid 1990's until the financial crisis. The tax system was a big part of both the boom and the recovery, according to Hal Scott, professor of international financial systems at Harvard Law School.

"They made a big comeback after the crisis. Ireland was very inviting," Scott said. "They're doing very well again."

Ireland opened itself as a sort of a back office to banks and operations that can be done from anywhere, like clearing of settlements, he said. It's likely to ramp up similar business post-Brexit.

Dublin would be more logical than Frankfurt.
Hal Scott
professor of international financial systems at Harvard Law School.

J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon said before the Brexit vote that his bank would need to move roughly a quarter of the 16,000 employees from London if the country voted to leave, calling it "terrible deal" for the British economy, according to Reuters. Other banks, from the U.S. and elsewhere, echoed Dimon to one degree or another, including HSBC, Deutsche Bank, Citigroup, and Morgan Stanley.

Scott of Harvard said that banks could hold onto EU access by moving only a part of their operations from London to Ireland.

"All a Brexit is for the banks in my judgment is access, and they can get that access to Europe through Ireland," Scott said. "Either through an affiliate through some presence in Ireland, they don't have to move their headquarters or any substantial part of their operations."

If banks do move employees, Scott said "Dublin would be more logical than Frankfurt."

But employees might not be so eager to go. While it's less expensive to live in Ireland than in the United Kingdom, Scott said banks could have a difficult time convincing personnel to leave one of the world's premiere cities.

"People are in London because it's got tradition, it's a nice place to live," he said. "That's important to their employees."

It's not just banks that may withdraw part of their operations from London. Insurance companies advised by Colin Scagell, partner at international law firm Mayer Brown, were already looking to set up contingency plans in Ireland before the Brexit referendum happened. He had Irish firms calling him in Mayer Brown London offices to offer up services.

"I've had a lot of Irish lawyers on the phone to me saying we're your guy, when your client wants to make contingency plans on how they continue to do business in London, come to Dublin," Scagell said.

Now that Brexit is a reality, Darren Maher, partner at Dublin-based law firm Matheson, is preparing for the fallout.

"Given our proximity to one of the world's largest markets (Europe), we have already seen some of our clients move or plan to move some or all of their operations or business lines to Ireland in order to retain access to the European market," Maher told CNBC. "Ireland's position as an English-speaking gateway to one of the world's largest markets will be even more significant than in the past."

A Brexit, though, is not all good news for Ireland. It's likely to have a negative impact on the country's economy, said Anu Bradford, law and international organization professor at Columbia Law School. Dublin is a "logical EU destination for businesses looking to relocate in the aftermath of Brexit," she said, but the country is by no means a total winner following the Brexit divorce.

"The entire EU will experience a deep and dangerous shock — both economic and political — and Ireland is adversely affected by this just like any other EU member state when the future of the European project is called into question," Bradford said.

Germany remains an option

Bart Friedman, a senior partner at Cahill Gordon & Reindel, said navigating the aftermath of a Brexit will be "messy, sloppy, and uncertain." He agreed that companies may need to relocate, but argued Dublin is not necessarily the go-to option.

"I think it's not such a clear choice. I'd want to understand a little bit more about how Ireland is going to process these very real political challenges caused by Brexit," Friedman said. "There's a lot of countries in play, I wouldn't underestimate the political risk with Northern Ireland."

For access to the EU, Germany could be a more reliable choice, he said.

"The likelihood of Germany leaving the EU is as close to zero as you can have it," Friedman said. "There's real stability in the country, an educated work force, a relatively stable political environment."

Harvard Law Professor Hal Scott added that companies may not need to relocate at all. He said it may have been more of a "stay" campaign tactic, and possibly an empty threat.

"It'd be very interesting post-Brexit when this is a fact, whether those who were predicting that everybody was going to leave London are still singing that tune today and on Monday," Scott said on Friday. "I doubt it."