“Brexit means Brexit,” British Prime Minister Theresa May was once fond of saying, even though neither she nor anyone else knew at the time what, exactly, Brexit meant. And neither she nor anyone else knows yet, exactly, what it will mean, although—weeks from her presumed electoral coronation—her erstwhile European partners are making clear it’s not going to mean anything good for the U.K. Banks and bankers, of course, crave the sort of certainty that is eluding everyone in the Brexit battle, and so are creating it for themselves, making their own Brexits before Britain does in 2017 or 2020 or 2030 or whenever the U.K. and EU get around to making a deal, or whenever the latter ceases to exist and renders all of this moot. And, broadly justified widespread unhappiness about it notwithstanding, it’s getting clearer and clearer where many of the Brexit refugees will land: Frankfurt, the moribund metropolis by the Main.
“Nothing concrete happened last year, but that all changed in the first quarter of this year,” said Carsten Ape, head of office leasing for Germany at U.S. property broker CBRE Group Inc. “Banks are now looking in earnest at specific locations….”
“Some large banks have actually reserved some office space already,” said Stephan Braeuning, head of office letting at Colliers International Group Inc.’s Frankfurt branch. “Nothing’s been signed yet, though.”
What’s behind this Frankfurter Sehnsucht? Is it the clean air, redolent of rule-following? Its central location? Its barely potable hard cider? Attractive as all of those things are, no: It has more to do with the fact that Frankfurt is even cheaper than Dublin or Madrid.
Part of Frankfurt’s appeal is that it’s the cheapest major financial center in the European Union to live and work, according to property broker Savills Plc. The combined annual cost of renting an apartment and the per-employee office space expense totaled just under 30,000 euros ($33,000) in the German city, less than half that of Paris.