Mark Stone, Europe Correspondent
Back in October, the boss of Goldman Sachs paid a visit to Frankfurt.
“Just left Frankfurt,” Lloyd Blankfein tweeted.
“Great meetings. Great weather. Really enjoyed it. Good. Because I’ll be spending a lot more time there.”
It was a pointed statement by a powerful financier and it prompted a flurry of nervousness. Was London doomed? Was this the first tangible sign of the damage Brexit could cause?
Following Mr Blankfein’s tweet came the announcement. Goldman Sachs would implement its contingency plans by renting the top eight floors of a new skyscraper in Frankfurt. It didn’t say how many of its 6,000 London jobs would move.
It is certainly true that Frankfurt is one of a number of European cities which sees itself as a genuine winner from Brexit.
Already the headquarters of the eurozone, the German financial hub is now drawing talent out of the City of London. With them goes their money and the large tax bills they currently pay into UK coffers.
Mr Blankfein, like many financiers, doesn’t see the economic benefit of Brexit for the UK. He is open about that.
But it begs the question: to what extent are companies exaggerating the demise of the City of London and the rise of places like Frankfurt?
There is a movement into Frankfurt, no doubt.
International schools are a good litmus test of intentions – expat employees need schools for their kids, and they need to book places well in advance of their move.
The city’s Metropolitan School is booming. Ten years old, it was thriving before Brexit. But it is this year’s uncertainty which promoted the big uptick.
“It started with a couple of enquiries prior to the summer break and then it gained momentum significantly in August and September,” headteacher Peter Ferres tells me.
British banks, he says, are holding places here for employees who may move.
“In banking terms they have bought the option…we have to make sure that when the employees are ready to move, we have these places reserved for them.”
“I have been surprised. We have just seen the first wave. Now as Brexit becomes more tangible there will be more players pressed to come to a decision and taking care of those HR moves into Frankfurt.
“We have built ten more classrooms. We will expand again next summer. We take the tailwind and make the best of it.”
“We have built ten more class rooms. We will expand again next summer.”
So what does that mean for London? Doom? No. It’s all about perspective.
Accounting firm EY has been tracking city firm intentions since the referendum. Their figures are revealing.
It counts job announcements until the end of November and concludes that the number of roles companies are intending to move out of the City of London has actually fallen from estimates a year ago.
In late 2016, EY said that an estimate of 12,500 jobs would leave the City of London for places like Frankfurt.
A year on, they say that despite the number of companies now saying they will relocate staff doubling, the actual number of staff to leave has fallen to 10,500.
That number may sound like a lot of jobs, but it represents just a fraction of the City of London’s skilled financial workforce.
It shows the reluctance firms have to move. Relocating staff is expensive and it’s an upheaval.
Brexit will mean financial passporting rights are lost but companies are working out the minimum number of staff that need to be located inside the EU to allow them to function adequately.
“Contingency plans have developed significantly over the last year, putting firms in a stronger position to estimate how many UK jobs they need to move,” said Omar Ali, EY’s UK financial services leader.
“Firms are working hard to find viable solutions that will allow them to continue to serve their customers and satisfy regulators with the minimum disruption.
“As a result, many of the jobs that are moving are client facing, ‘front office’ roles to ensure that companies can continue to serve their clients under EU law from day one.”
There is no doubt, the moves will have a huge impact for cities like Frankfurt, Dublin and Luxembourg City. But the negative impact on London will be limited.
“At least once a month, sometimes once a week, I have been in London promoting Frankfurt. Frankfurt is the place to be. It is a miniature London,” says Hubertus Vath, managing director of Frankfurt Main Finance.
He tells me he has been in discussion with 40 firms in London. Fifteen have already decided on some relocations.
Some have described him as a vulture successfully circling London and drawing companies out there.
Mr Vath says: “The UK has made a decision, a decision which will lead to a necessity to relocate into the eurozone.
“So what we are doing is – we are not vultures – we are making life easy for decisions which have to be made anyway.”
Vultures feed on the dead and even he is clear: London isn’t dying; far from it.
London is the world’s foremost financial centre. It will remain the world’s foremost financial centre.
“London is the world’s foremost financial centre,” he says. “It will remain the world’s foremost financial centre…it will still thrive…we are talking about a move of much less than ten percent [that’s] sizeable for Frankfurt, it won’t be felt much in London I guess.”
Still, the UK has yet to define what relationship it wants with the EU after Brexit.
Until it does, uncertainties, risks, and the longer term unrivalled relevance of London will remain in question.
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“It appears that the UK government has not really yet made up its mind which way it’s heading,” Mr Vath says. “So it’s very hard to lead a negotiation with someone where you don’t know which way he is heading.”
In London, EY’s Omar Ali agrees: “The extent of broader strategic restructurings and relocation plans will of course ultimately depend on the specifics of any long-term UK deal with the EU, but a drop in the volume of jobs moving will be welcome news for the City.”