17 Feb 2011

British bankers going to Switzerland up 28 per cent

Last year our Business Producer Ben King (twitter.com/kumquatkid) decided to seek out the truth about the mythical British banker fleeing to Switzerland by actually bothering to phone up Switzerland’s Federal Migration Office.

Contrary to popular wisdom, he discovered that the number of financiers coming from Britain to Switzerland had declined by 7% in 2009. It was a killer fact used against those in the City lobby by the likes of Vince Cable. So this year I was rather shocked that his man in Switzerland reported a markedly different pattern.

And as we were the source of the original report we thought it was only fair to report this change in picture. The Chancellor’s message is “We’re in this together”. But an increasing number of bankers are saying: “No – we’re in the Alps”.

The number of british bankers migrating to Switzerland rose by more than a quarter last year. The fresh air, the mountain clocks, an efficient public transport system and most importantly low taxes – what more could the discerning overbashed banker from Britain want than to go to Switzerland?

It’s true to say, as the Treasury does, that the percentage number may be large but the number of actual bankers is not. The figures show that 383 British financiers moved to Switzerland in 2010 – an increase of 28 percent over the previous year. In the same period, migration from other countries increased by 14 per cent. If you add in related jobs such as consultants and IT specialists, 1400 Britons migrated to the Alpine haven last year, up 29%.

The City has long argued that the combination of banker bashing, regulation and rising taxes will drive British bankers away. The 50 per cent rate of tax on high earners is frequently cited as a particularly unfriendly measure. 25 financial services firms have moved from Britain and today’s figures don’t include international bankers who may have left the City.

So I put it to Angela Knight of the BBA, banking lobby, that for many here this would be a case of “Good Riddance” for a few hundred financiers. “Yes, they may say that, but a few 100 is not just the point, it’s the thousands that can start to flow behind to not just one country but many countries, and once it starts then other starts to follow,” she told me.

So it’s not yet an exodus, and perhaps its just a blip. But the Government will be watching this migration rather nervously.