“JUST left Frankfurt. Great meetings, great weather, really enjoyed it. Good, because I’ll be spending a lot more time there. #Brexit”. This tweet on October 19th from Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, prompted a flurry of speculation about the investment bank’s plans. Industries that rely heavily on low-paid migrants have already voiced their worries about the departure of Europeans, warning of strawberries rotting in fields, unpicked. But concerns are growing about the flight of highly skilled workers in well-paid jobs at firms like Mr Blankfein’s.
According to a survey of European workers in Britain published in August by KPMG, one of the “Big Four” accounting firms, among those pulling in between £100,001 ($130,000) and £200,000 a year, 12% were planning to leave, compared with just 6% of those earning between £15,001 and £20,000. Those with postgraduate degrees were twice as likely to be drawing up exit plans as those with only a secondary-school education.
Some such moves have already begun. The Frankfurt International School, which charges fees of up to €22,120 ($26,120) a year, is reaping the rewards. Among its new pupils are the offspring of people from countries such as Singapore whose jobs were slated to go to Britain but have been moved since the Brexit vote, as well as those whose existing positions have already been shifted. Parents are discussing admissions up to three years in advance, anticipating that this trend will continue, says Paul Fochtman, the head teacher.
There are hints in the property market that people are watching to see how Brexit evolves. Knight Frank, an upmarket estate agent, says that rentals are outperforming sales in prime London properties. That is partly due to recent changes to stamp duty, a tax on buying property, but it may also reflect a desire for flexibility. Renewed lettings are up by 10% compared with this time last year; rolling over a contract means tenants can, if necessary, move out more quickly than if they start a new one.
Inquiries for corporate relocation services are down by 5-7% compared with last year, says Matthew Salvidge of Savills, another estate agent. But the budget for individual moves has increased by about 12%. He reckons this is because firms are importing senior figures to plan for Brexit.
Even those who can keep their jobs may see less potential for progression in future. Noemie Bouhana, a French senior researcher at University College London, completed a €3m project paid for by the EU earlier this year. She was encouraged to apply for further funding from Brussels but was later given to understand that British-led projects would not be considered from next spring. “Your career is based on you being the principal investigator,” she says. That may persuade academics to up sticks.
London has long been seen as the best place for those pulsing with ambition to make a career. These people are no longer sure it is, says Marcin Czyza, the founder of Expatexit, a database of foreign professionals who want to leave Britain. Whatever the terms of Brexit, this impression may be hard to dispel.