Hubertus Väth: Why I’m sticking with the “10,000”

As an economist, you calculate a lot of numbers in your life. As a communicator, you learn to value them as carriers of messages. But none of “my” earlier numbers have stirred minds and the media as much as my forecast for the “morning after”. 10,000 – calculated weeks previously for the worst-case scenario, published for all the world to see the day after the Brexit referendum, this number has been roaming around the media landscape ever since.

It could mean 10,000 jobs ending up in Frankfurt, if… (followed by a whole host of conditions). London’s City could lose as many as 20,000 to 25,000 jobs. Not a lot really, considering that the London financial centre employs 700,000 people, but a big deal for Frankfurt.

The number was a message: a great deal for Frankfurt, not so much for London. It was a broad definition, including as it did all support industries. And the number also had conditions attached: Brexit is coming, passporting is going, the EBA is coming and euro clearing won’t stay in London, the relocation will last for more than five years and – it’s gross, i.e. doesn’t make allowance for any job losses in Frankfurt.

So you can see: all of the key areas of discussion to date had already been highlighted on the “morning after”. But the spotlight was on it alone, the One. The Number. Such complex material, so nicely rounded.

Since then, it has appeared in around 90 countries. You hear it, see it, read it. Journalists from all over the world made the pilgrimage to this beautiful city on the river Main, full of self-doubt, but ready to be convinced. By now I’ve talked to more than 800 of them.

Frankfurt as the big Brexit winner? The doubters were not hard to find. There are no schools, no offices, no apartments. There was even carping about the food and beer, not to mention the quality of the locally available coffee, and a damning indictment of the cultural landscape. The image was frightful, according to harmonious souls in Munich, Dusseldorf, Cologne, Hamburg and Berlin, and the City and its competitors for London jobs in Paris, Dublin and elsewhere cited them with relish.

It will be 2,000 to 3,000 jobs at most, it was said, quietly and in confidence. A forecast that has since been increased several times in the same place. The Frankfurt School of Finance & Management saw 20,000 bankers on their way across the Channel. By contrast, supposedly sober-minded people held any forecast at all to be frivolous (the who’s who of the consultant scene however did exactly that in London: forecast. But in Frankfurt we were serious, oh yes!) But around 15 months later, the same source felt able to report about 5,000 jobs net. In other words, there were now forecasts of an influx from London and job losses in Frankfurt at the same time. Despite every effort to do so, we cannot figure out the two components of this number to this day.

Helaba leaped to our defence early. The always well-received, annual, and in contrast to us as a lobbying association (more disparaging would hardly be possible), always considered respectable study on the situation in the financial centre came up with 7,000 London jobs in 2016, before going on to see a lower limit of 8,000 a year later in 2017.

No sooner were the first names of the financial institutions coming out in favour of the location known, and scarcely had it been made public by the board that in the worst-case scenario up to 4,000 jobs are under scrutiny at Deutsche Bank in London, than the calls came for us to increase the number. The decision to relocate the EBA in favour of Paris had barely been reached, and many people already wrongly believed Frankfurt to be playing a losing game.

No, we stuck with and are sticking with the 10,000. Are we not capable of learning? Yes, we are, but if you think ahead, you don’t have to up the ante: to this day, we still don’t know exactly what Brexit will look like. Although many things are a lot clearer than a few months ago: Brexit will come. That can be considered very certain. A transitional period of 21 months has been agreed. The five-year period in which the 10,000 jobs we forecast would relocate to Frankfurt has proven to be far-sighted, as has the thesis that euro clearing would become an issue and will be decisive in terms of the outcome.

So yes, we are undeterred, because 21 months after the referendum, our scenario is still intact. The transitional period cannot be prolonged. The exit from Brexit that some believe they can see will turn out to be a mirage. Only the EBA didn’t come, giving us the perfect excuse if the number doesn’t quite reach 10,000.

And one more thing: you can take advantage of opportunities, or you can fail to do so. 10,000 is absolutely possible for the Financial Centre Frankfurt. If we don’t reach it, the question must be: why did they not come? We think it’s better to now ask the question: what else do we have to do to reach it? Plenty! The 10,000 is still feasible. Because many people have very quietly done a great deal of good. If you consider the use of the (modest) funds with which everything so far has been achieved, the result is sensational. Simply Frankfurt.

This guest contribution was first published in the daily newsletter at Finanz-Szene.de.