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Originally published Saturday, May 31, 2014 at 8:02 PM

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London banks find cheaper digs in the burbs

The use of banking backwaters — “nearshoring” as it’s known — is allowing the U.K. to bolster its status as a global financial powerhouse with London at its core. The satellites will help fight off competition from rival hubs such as Hong Kong and Singapore.


Bloomberg News

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Jamie Dimon cradles a cup of coffee as he waits for one of his 250,000 employees to open the locked door of an office marked “Global Command Centre.”

Once inside, the 58-year-old chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, the biggest U.S. bank, joins about 20 people facing computers and wearing headsets. On a wall hang four flat screens displaying a map of the world, a list of top clients and data on global money flows.

“We’re tracking the movement of trillions of dollars here,” says Dimon, pointing to one of the screens during a daylong visit in May. “From this room, we can actually pinpoint and deal with issues that come up around the world.”

Is he in New York? Tokyo? London? Try Bournemouth, a British seaside resort 108 miles south of the U.K. capital and 3,400 miles by overnight flight from Dimon’s Manhattan office. JPMorgan has more than 4,000 staff here, making it the area’s biggest employer. The bank is spending $48 million to modernize the site.

The use of banking backwaters — “nearshoring” as it’s known — is allowing the U.K. to bolster its status as a global financial powerhouse with London at its core. The satellites will help fight off competition from rival hubs such as Hong Kong and Singapore.

Think of it like “hub and spokes,” said Chris Cummings, chief executive of TheCityUK, a lobby group. “The industry is about far more than just London,” he said.

The London-based Centre for Economics and Business Research estimated in 2012 that finance jobs in the British capital would fall to 236,494 this year from 354,134 in 2007, while similar positions grow to 235,210 from 172,967 in Hong Kong and to 170,024 from 109,700 in Singapore. New York’s total was forecast to fall to 249,429 this year from 287,997, the institute said.

“Banking and financial activities are going to grow across the world so the question for London and nearby cities is, do they want this to happen in Britain or beyond,” said Tony Travers, a professor at the London School of Economics.

Setting up outposts in banking hinterlands saves companies money on space and staff while enabling them to dive into a deeper talent pool that’s still not too far from their core. The broader economy also gets a bigger bite of a sector that contributed 12.6 percent to the economy in 2012.

While London added 39,700 jobs in finance and related professional services between 2010 and 2012 to lift employment to 675,600, 12 municipalities saw a net gain of 37,000, according to TheCityUK estimates. That leaves two-thirds of 2 million such positions outside of London, with more than 30,000 each in Edinburgh, Birmingham and Leeds.

“London doesn’t see this as a zero-sum game,” said Lurene Joseph, CEO of Leeds and Partners, a local government agency that seeks to attract investment. “If U.K. Plc is to deliver, they need to look to the regions, which have a crucial role to play, working in partnership with London and other major cities to drive economic growth.”

Among the other companies reaching beyond London: Deutsche Bank AG plans to double its 1,000 staff in Birmingham with the opening of a new office this year, making it the city center’s fastest-growing employer.

Morgan Stanley’s second-largest European office outside of London is in Glasgow, with more than 1,100 staff providing operations, technology and accounting services. Citigroup is in Belfast; Bank of America is in Chester; Bank of New York Mellon is in Manchester, while accountants KPMG are in Leeds.

The difference in office rents between London and the regions is at an all-time high, according to Savills, a property broker. The cost for the best-quality offices in Birmingham, about 120 miles north of the capital, is still 14 percent below the 2008 high; in the City of London — the mile- square district at the heart of U.K. banking — rents exceed their pre-crisis peak by 17 percent.

As for salaries, TheCityUK says it tends to track the productivity of workers. In 2012, the average gross value added of those in finance was 156,540 pounds ($262,250) in London, versus 78,144 pounds in the West Midlands, where Birmingham is.

Escaping London involves more than shifting back-office staff to lower cost locations. Deutsche’s Birmingham outpost — in an area left derelict after factories closed — soon will house a new trading floor with room for currency, debt and equity-sales traders. At BNY Mellon in Manchester, the 1,200- person staff includes the global head of cash operations.

The proliferation of finance jobs also may yield political benefits for the industry, whose near-collapse in 2008 tipped the nation into recession and led to cash infusions and guarantees of as much as 1.2 trillion pounds, according to the National Audit Office’s latest estimate.

Of 20 parliamentary constituencies with more than 10,000 employees in financial and related professional services, 13 are outside of London and environs, according to TheCityUK. And among all 650, 23 percent have more than 3,000 employees in the industry.

Back on the south coast, Dimon’s third visit there, he’s revamping the 30-acre site that took root in 1986 with 650 employees. In a pep talk, he tells 850 colleagues gathered in the main hall they are integral to his company’s success.

“Bournemouth offers access to high-quality talent and to facilities that can support our business, not just in London, but around the world,” he says.



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