Citigroup signals Irish expansion

Bank will have ‘good, steady’ Irish employment growth, says top European executive

Citigroup will in the first half of this year  make a final decision on where to base its broker-dealer operation, said EMEA chief executive James Cowles. Photograph: Alan Betson

Citigroup will in the first half of this year make a final decision on where to base its broker-dealer operation, said EMEA chief executive James Cowles. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Citigroup’s top European executive signalled it will expand its Irish operation as Taoiseach Enda Kenny used an international finance forum in Dublin on Tuesday to declare the State “Brexit-ready” as he and three other Ministers sought to court overseas bankers.

The New York-based banking giant established its European retail and commercial banking headquarters in Dublin last January as it merged its Irish and London-based entities in this State. It currently employs about 2,500 in the Republic, where it has had a presence for more than five decades.

“It’s been a great experience and when we look at different aspects of our business currently in London, there will be some things we’ll move” to Ireland, said James Cowles, chief executive of Citigroup’s Europe, Middle East and African operations. “We’ll have good, steady growth in employment in Ireland” and elsewhere in the European Union.

However, the group’s main EU issue is where to base its broker-dealer operation, which is in the UK and is set to lose its passporting rights for services after the UK exits the EU, he told the conference, organised by IDA Ireland, IFS Ireland and the Financial Times.

He added that Citigroup had “reached out” to regulators and governments across Europe, including in Ireland, Italy, France, Spain and the Netherlands, as it seeks an alternative location.

Twenty-five criteria

Citigroup will make a final decision on the matter in the first half of this year, Mr Cowles said, adding that it was working off 25 different criteria, from its experience with local regulators to quality of life, as it weighs its options.

The Government, criticised in some quarters for being too tentative in trying to woo financial services from London since the referendum, publicly stepped up its charm offensive at the conference.

“Let me be clear that this country will remain an enthusiastic member of the European Union and single market,” the Taoiseach said, adding that his Cabinet was “fully committed” to the development of the international financial services sector in Ireland, which currently employs about 38,000 and where the State is seeking to add 10,000 jobs by 2020.

The event was also addressed twice by Eoghan Murphy, Minister of State with responsibility for financial services, as well as Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Mary Mitchell O’Connor and Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, who was not scheduled to speak.

Mr Murphy said certain firms seeking to move functions out of London would have to made decisions in the first or second quarter of this year, even though the UK will have two years of negotiations with the EU from when it presses the button on exit talks by the end of March.

“What we’re hearing from some firms and banks is that the decision has already been made,” Mr Murphy said, adding, however, that the companies were keeping the matter private for now.

Meanwhile, Credit Suisse, which established a hub in Ireland last year for serving hedge funds, is currently looking at various European cities to move some UK-based financial services to in the wake of Brexit, a senior board member of the Swiss bank told the forum.

“We are in the early stage of looking at alternatives outside of the UK,” Noreen Doyle, the Irish-American vice-chair of the board of directors of Credit Suisse, told the forum.

She declined to say if Dublin would emerge as a beneficiary as Credit Suisse moved some functions from the City of London. Credit Suisse’s chief executive, Tidjane Thiam, said in September that as much as a fifth of the volume of the group’s London operations could be affected by Brexit.