When the UK government decided to hold a referendum on EU membership, the Dutch paid mild attention to the issue. In Amsterdam, people considered this to be typically British, similar to driving on the left, closing their pubs too early and drinking their beer luke warm. However, once it had become clear that Brexit could be real, the Dutch started to engage and acted in line with their heritage – looking for possibilities to do business.
As soon as the Dutch government and the City of Amsterdam understood that companies in the financial services sector were keen to keep their European passports to be able to continue to trade within the EU, they saw an opportunity. The Netherlands is a place where professionals speak decent English, courts of law work efficiently, the flight to London only takes 45 minutes and internet connections are tremendously fast. This worked out well. The uncertainty regarding Brexit has caused 98 companies to move to the Netherlands so far. Another 325 businesses, including some big names, are interested in setting up an office in the Netherlands, according to figures from the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency (NFIA; https://investinholland.com). This year alone, 38 companies have sailed on over.
This created a few side effects. The financial regulators were soon swamped with work. Both the Authority Financial Markers (AFM) and the Dutch Central Bank (DNB) couldn’t process all applications in due time. Therefore, all kinds of requests and work related to domestic FS companies and fintechs were simply not sorted out. Another side effect was that the demand for talent increased significantly. This resulted in stress on the labour market and local consultancy fees going through the roof, attracting more young professionals to an already crowded city.
The push factors are clear, however what is attracting them to Amsterdam?
Historically, Amsterdam has been a city of financial innovation. In 1602, the Amsterdam stock exchange was established as a trading center for the issuance of shares of the newly formed joint stock company, called the Dutch East India Company or the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie. Today, part of Amsterdam’s attractiveness is its unequalled life-work balance and the fact that the Dutch capital offers year-round events for lovers of music, art and food. Apart from its luscious parks and bikeable roads, the Dutch capital has the highest mobile banking service adoption rate in Europe, secured payment technology and a large reserve of multi-lingual fintech specialists. The fact that Amsterdam is one of the leading global data center hubs proved another decisive factor for FS firms to hedge the Brexit situation.
With the heritage of the first European options exchange being established in Amsterdam in 1978, many payment innovations and pioneers have an Amsterdam DNA. This has resulted in a lively fintech ecosystem – mainly due to the many efforts of the Holland Fintech platform (www.hollandfintech.com) and its chairman Don Ginsel – a tech-savvy regulator, ample availabity of career opportunities for young talent, and access to venture capital. The fact that the Money 20/20 EMEA edition found a permanent home in Amsterdam contributes to the image that “it is happening in Amsterdam”.
Obviously, not all banks, asset managers or traders have selected Amsterdam as their new prime HQ location, but it is interesting to see that especially tech-driven firms have sailed the pond. This means that due to Brexit many UK-based companies will share their future with the Dutch capital.
With the possibility of a ‘no deal’ nearing, the uncertainty continues. We’ll keep you posted.