Frankfurt and Dublin make bankers feel wanted in battle for Brexit jobs

Morgan Stanley, Citi and JPMorgan have announced that Frankfurt, above, will be their EU trading base after Brexit. (Reuters)
Updated 18 August 2017
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Frankfurt and Dublin make bankers feel wanted in battle for Brexit jobs

LONDON/DUBLIN: “I’m here to send you the regards of the Federal Chancellor. I am entitled to tell you we want you in Germany.” This private message from Angela Merkel, delivered by a regional politician to Wall Street bankers last year, is having the desired effect.
Frankfurt, along with Dublin, is emerging on top in the battle to draw highly-paid banking jobs — and the tax revenue that they bring — away from London before Britain’s departure from the European Union in March 2019.
Germany has favored a subtle approach, with Chancellor Merkel saying little if anything in public on what is a sensitive issue at home. Instead she relied on Volker Bouffier, prime minister of the state of Hesse where Frankfurt is located, to take her invitation to New York in November, according to three sources familiar with the discussions.
Irish leaders have been less reticent, but both countries have sent the same welcoming message to US, Japanese and other foreign banks — despite the public unpopularity of bankers that still lingers after the global financial crisis.
While Paris and Amsterdam are set to lure one or two major lenders, Germany and Ireland have so far secured the bulk of commitments from big-name banks.
Even then, the work of lobbyists is not over: they are pushing to host the huge business of clearing deals in euro-denominated securities, now dominated by the British capital.
Banks have been undertaking legal, financial and economic analysis in choosing new bases for their EU business if it can no longer be done from London. But they also need to know the political climate will be favorable.
“Bankers want reassurance that the government wants them,” one senior banking executive told Reuters. “Business does care about political sentiment toward them. There’s a reason: if there are problems you know that government will use its powers to help you.”
The largest global banks in London have indicated that about 9,600 jobs could go to the continent or Ireland in the next two years, though few have yet moved, according to public statements and information from industry sources.
In recent weeks Morgan Stanley, Citi and Bank of America as well as Japan’s Nomura, Mizuho and Sumitomo Mitsui have announced decisions for new EU headquarters, all opting for Frankfurt or Dublin.
These cities’ success follows year-long campaigns, as government agencies and lobby groups staged a charm offensive with the banks unseen since the 2007-09 crisis.
Merkel, who is seeking re-election next month, left city and Hesse officials to do the rounds in New York. That included the one-on-one meetings with senior executives on Wall Street when Bouffier passed on her message.
German taxpayers had to fund a series of bank bailouts during the crisis, and the bad memories remain due to Deutsche Bank. While Germany’s biggest bank did not needed rescuing, it has run up a litigation bill of €15 billion since 2009 due to extravagant market bets and misconduct.
Local officials have had fewer inhibitions than the national politicians. The Frankfurt Main Finance lobby group went on more than 50 trips to foreign banks’ home bases in the past year. “We’ve had indications that two thirds of the major banks’ moves will be to Frankfurt,” lead campaigner Hubertus Vaeth said.
Morgan Stanley, Citi and JPMorgan say Frankfurt will be their EU trading base after Brexit. However, Vaeth said: “The strategy was to be subtle. There was no glee or triumphalism.”
As a medium-sized provincial city, Frankfurt has also been proclaiming its cultural attractions. That involved taking Wall Street firms to the city’s English-language theater and Japanese bankers to see the Eintracht Frankfurt soccer team play.
Ireland has adopted similar sporting tactics. When Dublin hosted an American Football game between Boston College and Georgia Tech last year, government ministers worked the room at a dinner of 500 executives from Boston and Atlanta, including State Street CEO Jay Hooley.
The Irish political welcome has been more evident.
New Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, building on work by his predecessor Enda Kenny, has met several bank bosses and posted a picture on his website of him smiling with Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan.
Politicians posing with bankers had been close to anathema since a collapse of the Irish financial system forced the country to take an international bailout in 2010, bringing austerity policies which hurt voters badly.


Ahmed Al-Habtoor: Portrait of a driven auto executive

Updated 19 May 2019
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Ahmed Al-Habtoor: Portrait of a driven auto executive

  • There is no country on this planet where you will see Bentleys, McLarens and Bugattis as much as in the UAE.

DUBAI: Over the course of a morning in his office in Deira, Dubai’s traditional business district, Ahmed Al-Habtoor talked eloquently and expertly about the motor business in the UAE and the Arabian Gulf, about customers’ likes and dislikes, about the tough times the industry has faced recently, about his best-selling models, and about the importance of the sector within the UAE economy.
Then, he dropped a small bombshell. He is always chauffeurdriven, and seldom gets behind the wheel of any of the luxury vehicles he trades daily. “I don’t care about driving cars, I care about selling them,” he revealed.
From the youthful chief executive officer of Al Habtoor Motors, who could have his pick of Bugattis, Bentleys, McLarens and other “fast boys toys,” that was quite a revelation.
“I don’t like driving, I like to be on my phone checking emails and messages. I don’t have the patience to look for parking, and anybody who can afford to have a driver should do so,” he added.
So Al-Habtoor is, in more senses than one, a driven executive. The motor division is a key part of the Al Habtoor conglomerate, started by his father, the group chairman Khalaf, in the 1970s as an engineering business but which has expanded through real estate, hotels and hospitality, to education and entertainment.
Motors has been an integral pillar of the Habtoor portfolio since it was set up in 1983 to handle the Mitsubishi franchise in the UAE. “We have strict corporate governance, law, a constitution in the company. The rules are set and we are here to implement the directions of the chairman. We have our own ideas, we try to be creative, but it is a well-established, solid company with very strong roots,” he said.
here is still a large number of workers — whom he called “partners” — who can date their employment back to the very beginning of the Mitsubishi franchise.
He admits to two alternative frustrations in his job, depending on the economic climate.
“When the market is active and business is fantastic, I get frustrated at the pressure of delivering to my clients. I’m just busy, trying to meet the expectation of delivering the right product at the right time,” he explained. “The other frustration is when the market is challenging and low, I’m busy trying to be busy, trying to find business. It’s all about being busy.”
For the past few years, the “challenging” market has been to the fore, as he candidly admitted. The fall in the oil price in 2014-15 began to affect the economies of the energy exporters of the Arabian Gulf toward the end of the following year, and the motor sector was seriously hit. Sales volumes declined sharply — compounded by government spending cuts and some policy decisions.
“I think in 2017 the volume was acceptable. In 2018, it dropped when the government implemented VAT. I don’t think VAT was the wrong decision, but it had a negative effect. It was implemented when the market was in a weak situation. If the market was booming, it would have been much easier for us,” he said.
Al Habtoor Motors’ longevity gives its CEO a perspective on the forces that shape the industry. “It’s a cycle. There is always a cycle every 6-8 years. When oil prices started to fall it had an effect. In our region, government spending is the key to moving the economy. Not only in Dubai, but the whole of the UAE.”
He estimated that the motor industry was the second biggest sector in the UAE’s non-oil economy, behind real estate, but saw no real linkage in the simultaneous downturns in property and motor sales.
The other factor that affected car sales — especially in the high volume and fleet car business — was the increasing reluctance of banks in the UAE to continue previous levels of finance to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) during the worst of the downturn.

“It was not a very wise decision to withdraw support from SMEs. The economy depends on large companies, but at the end of the day, consumption comes out of the (medium) and small businesses. Uncertainty and insecurity in the market made a lot of people stay away from buying,” he said.
Al-Habtoor estimated that car sales volumes in the fleet business were down by 50 percent from the highs of 2015, as they were across the whole of the volume motor business. “Last year was very challenging, but thankfully we managed all the challenges,” he said, on the back of an upturn in business measured across the whole of last year.
He has reason to be more optimistic in the current year. “There has been stimulus to the economy, Expo 2020, and the confidence in the market improved. The changes to visa arrangements, the reduction of license fees — all these are having an effect,” he said.
On the “Expo effect” — the expected boost to the UAE economy from the huge business fair planned for next autumn — he was cautiously positive. “We’ve seen that coming through already. Now it is nominal, but we are seeing green shoots. It is not a big effect yet but it is happening, and the more we go toward October next year the more benefit will come,” Al-Habtoor said, adding that he was confident of getting back to 2015 levels eventually.
That is good news for the Mitsubishi, Fuso, Jac and Chery marks that are Habtoor’s staple. But the group also has an impressive stable of luxury cars, with the dealerships for Bentley, the McLaren sports brand, and the super-car Bugatti, in the UAE
The UAE’s reputation for glamorous, extravagant cars — even down to the Dubai police fleet — is a global phenomenon, and Al-Habtoor does not think it will change any time soon, even in challenging economic circumstances.
“A lot of people want beautiful cars and the best. It always was like that, it still is now and it will be in the future. The UAE and Dubai is always about the best. It’s in the culture of the city. There is no country on this planet where you will see Bentleys, McLarens and Bugattis as much as in the UAE,” he said.
The economics are different in the luxury brands, which were not as badly hit by the oil-related slump as the volume business. “The luxury end was affected by the downturn, but it’s more resilient, it’s OK,” he said.
“In the first four months of this year, we’re the number one dealer in the world for Bentley, and have consistently been among the biggest Bentley dealers in the world, if not the biggest. When luxury goods are moving, not just cars, but jewelry and other things, I feel that the economy will come back soon,” he said.
Bentley sales have been given a boost by the introduction at the end of last year of a new Continental GT, and by the continued appeal of the Bentayga, the company’s first move into the SUV market, which has huge appeal for motorists in the region. Deliberately priced at below 1 million dirhams ($272,250), the luxury SUV aims to take on other upmarket four-wheel-drive vehicles.
He seemed especially pleased with the performance of the McLaren range within his portfolio, vying with other more famous brands in the lucrative but very competitive sports car segment — another best seller in the region.
At the top end, McLaren competes with the best in the sports car market, and its BP23 model sells at more than 10 million dirhams. “There are only 116 vehicles around the world and we have six of them. In that ultimate series sector, McLaren is dominating,” Al-Habtoor said.
Then there is Bugatti, the French super-sports car whose Chiron model is one of the most expensive seen on the UAE’s roads, selling at around 12 million dirhams. Last year, the company sold 12 of them, Al-Habtoor said, but any ideas that McLaren is competing with, and cannibalizing sales, of Bugatti were dismissed.
“That’s like comparing a normal plane with a UFO. I once drove a Bugatti on a track at over 200km and it was as if I was having a picnic in the garden — you don’t even feel it,” he said.
Occasional high-speed track driving, apparently, is one of the few occasions he likes to give the chauffeur a day off.