The millennial perspective on Brexit and the City

How do London’s younger finance workers think the Leave vote will affect their futures?

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At the Glastonbury music festival this summer, one act stole the show: Brexit. Thousands of young festival-goers reacted with horror as news filtered through that Britain had decided to exit the EU. Two-thirds of people over 65 voted Leave while nearly three quarters of 18 to 24-year-olds backed Remain, many of whom have made their anger clear. Back in the City, we asked four millennials who work in London’s financial services industry — one of the sectors likely to be most affected — for their reaction

‘Ana’, 23, graduate trainee at a large US bank. Voted Remain

“The older generation has dictated the future of the young. They were born with social mobility, free education, golden pensions. They could live and work in 27 countries. Our children won’t be allowed that. Brexit has been the most memorable event of my career. I was completely shocked.

The immediate aftermath was full of adrenaline and super exciting. Trading floors were busier than ever. It was clearly great for our business. As reality kicked in, I realised that the longer-term consequences are not so sunny. I am relieved to be in a US bank, but if they stick to their pre-Brexit plan to move parts of the bank out of London in the event of a Leave vote, then a move to Frankfurt seems to be a large downgrade from London.

I have nothing complicating a move to another city. However, watching my colleagues stress about relocating their families, as well as worry about their EU citizenship complicating their chance to stay in the UK, makes me wonder whether there will be a wave of resignations.

Over the summer I have had more faith that we will keep some sort of access to the single market, which in turn supports my job security in London and makes me think it won’t be such an economic earthquake. And maybe it’s not such a bad thing starting in a sector when it’s in a trough — surely it can only go up!”

© Martin O'Neill

‘Emma’, 30, sales trader at a US bank. Did not have a vote

“I don’t feel less welcome as a foreigner — I moved here from New York three years ago. But I think people don’t understand how important immigrants are to the dynamism of a city. They grossly underestimate how much energy and innovation these young, foreign minds bring to the country. The ones that make it here are the most driven. And now these people will be reconsidering whether London is the place they want and need to be.

It makes me feel as though the system is much more functional in the US as we are all united, for better or worse. This has started what could be a very ugly path for Europe. What amazes me is that there were no parameters around the vote, such as a margin of majority that needed to be achieved. It feels as though the referendum was very thoughtlessly planned and it shocks me that something so complex and with such large consequences could be so irresponsibly run and decided by a simple in/out vote.

Brexit is just one dimension of a wider mistrust of elites sweeping through the world. People underestimated the chance of Brexit and I think the same will go for Donald Trump. The risk that he wins is much larger than what is reflected in the polls.”

© Martin O'Neill

‘Robert’, 33, fund manager at a boutique. Voted Leave

“I run a fund that invests in Asian equities, so all my assets are outside the UK. From a personal perspective, I’ve benefited because in sterling terms they went up in value significantly after the Brexit vote. I’m also a prospective housebuyer so I’m thrilled about the dip in house prices.

Like a lot of people in finance I’m ideologically liberal. The EU is presented as a body that acts in the interest of Europe, but any reform that would benefit Europe gets vetoed by countries that would be detrimentally affected.

I think the impact on financial services will be mixed. It will create a level of friction with Europe in terms of onboarding European customers. But it loses a level of friction with other international countries. Look at the success of Switzerland. Its financial services industry has thrived while being independent, and there is no reason to believe we won’t follow their success.

It’s all very well to say banks will move out, but I think there is a lot of scaremongering. It’s a people business and they would have to convince their people to move. London is more international and culturally diverse than any other European city.”

© Martin O'Neill

‘Olivier’, 25, analyst at a large hedge fund. Voted Remain

“Since Brexit I’ve been working more or less nonstop. The experience of walking on to the trading floor at 5:30am after the result came in was scary but exciting. From a professional perspective, Brexit is a good thing for hedge funds. It means more volatility and more uncertainty, which makes my job tougher but means there are more opportunities. There will be greater stock disparity between winners and losers.

On the human side, it’s pretty sad and it’s a massive step backwards. What is scary is the conflict between the ages and the conflict between different parts of the UK. The older generation has had it a lot easier than the younger generation. I think the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer.

It says a lot about where we are as a country. I wouldn’t consider leaving the UK any time soon but I have French citizenship as well and I will be a lot more open to the idea when I reach my thirties because I struggle to identify with vast swaths of the population here.

To me the outcome is even worse for the EU than it is for the UK. The UK could become a sort of ‘Switzerland lite’ — that could be a good thing. The problem is that no one knows; that’s why it’s hurting so much right now.”

© Martin O'Neill
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