Bank of America eyes space in Dublin in advance of Brexit

Wall Street bank seeks space capable of accommodating hundreds

Wall Street giant Bank of America Merrill Lynch is actively looking for more office space in Dublin, capable of accommodating hundreds of additional staff, as it prepares for the outcome of Brexit, according to sources.

The group, which once had by far the largest balance sheet in the banking sector in Ireland, is among the most advanced major international banks in terms of considering expansion in Dublin in the wake of the UK's decision last year to exit the European Union, one of the sources said.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch declined to comment on the matter.

Any expansion would be in addition to the group’s plans, first reported in February by The Irish Times, to increase its Irish workforce by 17 per cent to more than 700 people, as it develops its global technology and operations hub in Leopardstown, about 10km south of Dublin city centre. The bank also has offices in Hatch Street in the centre of the capital.


Default option

Nikolaus Naerger, Bank of America’s head of corporate banking in Germany, Switzerland and Austria said last month that the group views Dublin as its “emergency default option” to become its EU hub if Brexit means the UK loses easy access to the single market. He said that the bank had not made a final decision on Dublin and could choose another location and that it would continue to maintain a large presence in London.

The US’s second-largest bank by market value, at more than $240 billion (€220 billion), was created out of Bank of America’s emergency takeover of Merrill Lynch in September 2008, the same weekend that the latter’s smaller rival Lehman Brother’s collapsed.

The group's Irish subsidiary, Merrill Lynch International Bank (MLIB), had the largest balance sheet among Dublin-based financial institutions before the group decided in 2013 to move its half-trillion-euro financial derivatives portfolio to the UK.

At its peak four years ago, MLIB’s assets stood at $593 billion, three times the size of Bank of Ireland’s balance sheet at the time. The decision to move the derivatives portfolio was part of a move to simplify the group’s structure.

Living will

MLIB, which was set up in 1995, was so large at one stage that it featured as a “material entity” in Bank of America’s so-called living will, a plan submitted to US regulators on how it could be wound down in the event of a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis. It also featured in European banking stress tests in 2014, given the size of the bank relative to the Irish economy.

London could lose 30,000 banking and associated jobs as lenders move €1.8 trillion of assets out of the UK in the wake of Brexit, according to estimates from Bruegel, the Brussels-based economic think tank.

Ireland, which is vying with locations such as Luxembourg, Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam for some of the activities financial institutions plan to move, has had a mixed experience so far in the process.

Barclays settled in January on Dublin for its main EU centre after Brexit, with plans to hire about 150 additional staff in the city, while US investment group Legg Mason plans to set up a fund management company here. However, Ireland has been beaten in recent months by Luxembourg to become the post-Brexit European base for US insurance AIG and private-equity firm Blackstone, while Lloyd's of London picked Brussels instead of Dublin last month to set up a new EU subsidiary.

Joe Brennan

Joe Brennan

Joe Brennan is Markets Correspondent of The Irish Times