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The Emerald City – Irish high fliers in London

 

Every weekday morning Tube stations at Bank, Moorgate and Liverpool Street spill workers into London’s financial district.

Train lines act like arteries, delivering thousands of number-crunching worker bees to glass palaces which dominate the skyline and shape the world’s markets. Pavements run rivers of hurrying suits and ties, flowing past food outlets like Pret A Manger and Eat, and Coffee Shops like Costa and Starbucks.

The City UK, an organisation that promotes financial and professional services industries in London, estimate that 641,000 people work in those industries in the capital.

Among their number is Patrick Foley from South Kerry. Patrick is 26 years old and works as a private banker with Coutts. He has been working in London for over two years.

The vista of The City is a long way from the serene surrounds of his upbringing, yet he points out that he would make it home to Kerry in less time than it would take if he were travelling by car from the financial services centre in Dublin.

He explains that more and more he is seeing fellow graduates in London.

They are attracted by better opportunities and are educated to a level where they can take them.

“The prospects are bright for graduates,” he says. “You have the world’s leading financial centre right on our doorstep. Since moving to London two years ago I have noticed a large amount of people I went to college with coming over – and more are coming.”

 

Foley says it’s not just a matter of turning up in London and getting a job, but thousands have and in his experience the Irish are well received.

“I wouldn’t say it’s easy to get a job in London. But in today’s environment you wouldn’t expect it to be either. There is plenty of competition for jobs but Irish people are known for their willingness to compete and fight for places, which is why it’s no surprise to see so many here.

“In my area of work, success comes from being able to build relationships, rapport with clients and be a good people person. Whilst everyone is different, generally speaking Irish people are friendly and easy to get on with. This definitely helps and lends itself to the financial services industry.”

Official sources speculate that in excess of 10,000 Irish people are employed in financial services in The City of London. It’s an estimate others believe to be conservative.

The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) told The Irish Post that the number has yet to be quantified, but the evidence on the ground suggests it is considerable and growing.

Morgan Stanley is one of the world’s biggest financial services firms. Their London office in Canary Wharf employs nearly 6,000 people and has spawned an Irish network called Net-Eire which has approximately 250 members.

This represents just over four per cent of the total workforce but significantly, it doesn’t account for every Irish person working for the company.

David Byrne, 33, works for a world-leading financial services company in Canary Wharf. He is in the process of trying to form an equivalent network and estimates that of the 4,000 people employed at his firm, at least 200 are Irish people – a figure representing five per cent of the work force.

He says the financial services industry in London is experiencing a tough period and many investment banks are downsizing.

As a result, the atmosphere in the industry is tentative and the majority of those interviewed wish to remain anonymous for fear of bringing bad publicity to their company door.

However, Byrne explains that the sheer number of extra roles and the variations on those roles make The City very attractive to Irish professionals.

“Irish graduates are continuing to arrive and many have been recruited through career fairs in Ireland,” he says.

“In my experience Irish people in the City are hard-working, well-qualified and friendly. That leaves them open to opportunities and they take them. To be successful in finance you need to know what you are talking about, but you also need the communication skills to get things across. Irish people have this.”

Byrne says a typical starting salary scale ranges from £18,000 to £40,000. But a source working in Canary Wharf said the average salary of the estimated 50,000 people working in financial and professional services there is £100,000.

“Irish people work hard and play hard,” says Byrne. “They are two very important qualities in The City.”

An Irish sales trader working in the Square Mile of the City tells a similar story of Irish influence but with a reduced figure of three per cent. He is from Dublin and says the network of Irish people in financial services is very active and believes the number to be vast.

If a figure of four per cent is applied to the total number of financial and professional service employees working in London, 25,640 of them would be Irish.

This figure is purely speculative, but it is an interesting comparison that 25,057 people were employed in the financial services industry in Ireland, when data was last collated, by Finance Dublin in 2010.

Anecdotally, the Irish Embassy in London says more than half of the membership of the Global Irish Forum is linked with the financial services sector in London.

Jill Tully is from The London Irish Business Society (LIBS).

She says that over one third of their 1700 members are employed in the financial sector “from entry level graduates to senior management and decision makers.

Irish people have a very good reputation in banking and finance in London and many of the top management teams will have Irish representatives.”

David White is 31 years old and from County Kildare. He graduated with an MA in accountancy just when the boom was making its last play.

He worked in corporate banking with an Irish bank in the IFSC for two years, but against the backdrop of decline he saw opportunity in London.

He describes his degree as ‘middle of the road’ but being Irish helped when he travelled to Britain for interview – the desk manager turned out to be Irish.

Today more than 20 per cent of his team is from Ireland. He works in front office role in Treasury and Trading.

David says Irish graduates leave Ireland for the City of London because there are “more options, the pay is significantly better and there is a bonus system which is absent in Ireland.”

If Dublin has created a strong ‘back office’ culture, then London is a leader in terms of front office roles. The city is one of the major centres of finance in the world and the Irish are embedded in their thousands.

“I’m sure it benefitted me that my boss was Irish when I came first,” he says. “There’s an awful lot of Irish in our bank alone. Some are not long out of university in Ireland and others are well established, but you get to know everyone very quickly.

“It’s a stereotype but the Irish go well because they relate to people. Your qualification will get you in the door but after that it’s down to the quality of your work and your personality. Confidence goes far and Irish people rise through the ranks.

“All the Irish people I meet are working in finance. I don’t think people work harder here than they did in the IFSC, it’s probably about the same.”

Finance Dublin told The Irish Post that many of the senior management roles in the Irish Financial Services Centre (IFSC) are filled by Irish people who have risen through the ranks in London before returning to Ireland to take up management roles.

They explain that Irish professionals leave to work in finance in London because of the increased opportunity which derives from ‘front office’ services like asset and fund management, opposed to the ‘back office’ offshore operations like fund administration of which Dublin is a world centre.

“Thousands of talented Irish people work in the City of London,” says Michael O’Toole, a managing director of Morgan Stanley and one of the founders of Net-Eire.

“What we try to do is harness the power of this group through business networks such as LIBN and Morgan Stanley’s Net-Eire. This not only gives the Irish finance community in London a louder voice, but helps us to forge stronger links with similar groups in Ireland. Morgan Stanley’s network operates at the business level but also in the communities we live and work in.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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