Irish Bankers End 600-Mile London Commute in Post-Bust Move Home

Liam Boggan used to spend Sunday evenings traipsing to Dublin airport to catch the 9:10 p.m. flight to London for his job at State Street Corp. As Ireland recovers from recession, his commute is now 600 miles shorter.

A former head of equity research at Merrion Stockbrokers, he left for the U.K. in 2011 after the global crisis swept through Dublin’s finance houses. He moved back to work at Cantor Fitzgerald LP in September after it bought Irish stockbroking firm Dolmen Securities.

Boggan and London-based Irish friends “were increasingly resigned to the long-term nature of commuting,” he said. “Over time it became apparent, there was a barely perceptible but actual shift in sentiment toward Ireland. Not only had Cantor arrived, but other brokers were looking to hire.”

Ireland exited its international bailout program in December and financial services companies are starting to recover from the worst banking crisis and property market crash in Western Europe. Along with Cantor, companies such as fund manager Investec Plc bought Dublin-based firms and some emigrants are gradually being drawn back across the Irish Sea.

Yesterday, Dublin-based securities firm Davy said it hired Chantal Brennan from PineBridge Investments LLC in London as chief investment officer at its asset management unit.

“This lady we’ve appointed, we wouldn’t have had a hope a few years ago of attracting,” said Joan McGrath, head of human resources at Davy, in an interview. “People are returning from London, driven by Dublin being seen as a credible place to work again.”

Trickle Back

The numbers working in finance in Ireland rose 8 percent to 67,300 in the third quarter of 2013 from the same period in 2011, according to the country’s statistics office. Figures for the fourth quarter are due by the end of this month.

“Many Irish people who had made money in London moved back during the boom,” said John Purcell, the Irish managing director of London-based executive search firm Purcell & Co. “Then it all unraveled, and it was back on the boat. Now we are beginning to see a trickle back.”

It’s a turnaround from the recession, when unemployment tripled and emigration rose to the highest since the poverty-stricken times of the 19th century. On Sundays, Boggan joined the exodus, leaving his wife and three children, between 10 and 14, in Dublin to work as head of equity research sales in the U.K. and Ireland.

Back in Dublin

“Over two years, that last flight got busier and busier as more and more people started to do as I was doing,” said Boggan, who declined to give his own age. “The question that started to grate on me on Sunday evenings, was when the kids asked me when was I going home. I explained I was home and was going back to London to work.”

Boggan now works at Cantor’s office in Dublin’s St. Stephen’s Green, about a 30-minute walk from his home.

Employment rose 3.2 percent in the third quarter from the year before, the fourth straight increase. The number of new professional job vacancies rose 10 percent in January from a year earlier, according to recruitment company Morgan McKinley, while KBC Groep NV’s Irish unit in Dublin said yesterday it will hire 200 extra staff this year.

For Brian O’Reilly, head of research at UBS Wealth Management in London, the move came earlier and was more about opportunity than necessity. He had left Ireland in 1999 to work in the City of London and as Dublin home prices plunged, he made a decision.

‘Crammed on Tube’

“We took a long-term view that our future was going to be in Ireland,” said O’Reilly, 38, who bought a home in Killiney, an affluent suburb of the Irish capital, in 2010. At that point, real estate prices had dropped about 30 percent from 2006. “When you have sat crammed on the Tube for long enough, you start thinking about quality of life.”

O’Reilly commuted on and off for six months of the next two years. His wife worked the winters in London, basing herself in Dublin during the summer. Every second weekend, he would fly into Ireland on Friday evening and return on Monday morning.

Meanwhile, the Irish economy started to stabilize, under the shelter of the three-year rescue program the country sought in the final months of 2010. House prices rose last year from the first time since 2007. International buyers began to buy Irish bonds, sending the yield on 10-year government bonds to 3.28 percent from a peak of 14.2 percent in July 2011.

In 2012, Cantor bought Dolmen and last year hired Boggan to lead its institutional equities and corporate broking business in Dublin after his role at State Street ended. O’Reilly moved back to Dublin full-time to work as head of global investment strategy at Davy, Ireland’s largest securities firm. The company has increased its staff numbers to 550 over the last four years, and is now above its peak at the height of Ireland’s Celtic Tiger boom.

‘No Longer Toxic’

“It took a while,” said O’Reilly, who completed the move in 2012. “It’s tough to come back for the same reasons we left: there’s just a smaller pool of the right jobs.”

While fund administration has thrived in Dublin, led by companies like Bank of New York Mellon Corp. expanding in the city, other areas of finance are still struggling.

The nation’s two biggest lenders, Allied Irish Banks Plc and Bank of Ireland Plc are cutting jobs. The former Anglo Irish Bank Corp. is being liquidated, while overseas banks, such as the U.K.’s Lloyds Banking Group Plc and Denmark’s Danske Bank A/S, have reduced their presence in Ireland.

The country’s oldest stockbroking firm, Bloxham, closed in 2012 after an accounting probe, and more broadly, the economy remains mired in debt. Yet some 18 months on from moving, O’Reilly said he has no regrets. He’s optimistic that the Irish economy is turning. It’s a sentiment shared by Boggan: “Suddenly it’s not a toxic place anymore,” he said.

“When I used to drive around with State Street analysts here, they’d always say to me, listening to the radio, it was only the recession,” said Boggan. “Now, I take Cantor analysts around and recession isn’t the topic of conversation. People seemed to have suddenly moved on.”

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