By Pamela Barbaglia, Gwénaëlle Barzic and Rob Cox
LONDON/PARIS/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Several U.S. boutique investment banks are looking to hire senior staff in Paris in the wake of Britain’s departure from the EU and have poached bankers from France’s most established advisory firms, including Lazard <LAZ.N>, sources told Reuters.
New York-based Evercore Inc <EVR.N> has tapped headhunting firm Charta Partners to hire French bankers with long-standing relationships with the country’s key companies, sources said, as it prepares to open an office in Paris.
Evercore competes head-to-head with U.S. independent advisory firms Centerview, Greenhill <GHL.N>, Perella Weinberg and Moelis <MC.N>, who are all also looking to hire in France.
The push comes as Britain is finalising its planned departure from the EU, prompting large investment banks and independent advisory outfits to bulk up their presence across Europe to maintain access to continental clients.
Paris offers an attractive European hub for international banks which are trying to spread their bets away from London and Frankfurt.
But France’s ranking in European deal-making has dropped since a record 2017 when it was Europe’s fourth biggest M&A market with $105 billion (81.7 billion pounds) worth of deals, according to Refinitiv data.
In 2018 it was overtaken by Italy, falling to seventh place in European league tables after closing just $54 billion worth of deals, the data shows.
In the first three quarters of this year, it generated less than $40 billion worth of deals, none of which were transformational transactions following the aborted merger of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles <FCHA.MI> and Renault <RENA.PA> in May.
Yet international banks remain confident that the market will pick up again, betting on the ambitions of large French companies to boost their global presence through sizable M&A deals.
“It’s a good time to be a French banker. In fact, seasoned French bankers are in high demand right now,” said a London-based headhunter, adding the U.S. boutiques had aggressive hiring plans.
A Paris-based investment banker who recently left a bulge-bracket bank told Reuters he had received four different proposals to join U.S. boutiques.
“Paris is a one-stop shop,” said a French government official who previously worked as a banker. “Banks, insurers, large conglomerates and industry bodies are all close to each other.”
Greenhill in September hired Amelie Negrier-Oyarzabal, a former partner at Lazard for 16 years, to lead its efforts to open a French hub.
Two other Lazard bankers – Nicolas Constant and Pierre Pasqual – left the firm in early October to join an undisclosed U.S. boutique, sources told Reuters.
Constant was a seasoned Lazard managing director who spent 14 years at the firm, focussing primarily on private equity, while Pasqual was a director who joined in 2012 from Barclays.
Their departure has triggered rumours that Lazard’s French boss Matthieu Pigasse could also leave the firm, sources told Reuters, after he recently held talks with several boutiques including Evercore.
Lazard denied that Pigasse is leaving the firm but confirmed that Constant and Pasqual had resigned.
Evercore and the other banks declined to comment.
Pigasse played a key role in winning a high-profile mandate for Lazard for the upcoming initial public offering (IPO) of Saudi Aramco, pushing out Evercore who had been previously retained by the oil giant in 2017.
Pigasse went to Riyadh over the summer when the Aramco pitches took place, a source with knowledge of the matter said, and also worked on the Saudi company’s first international bond issue earlier this year.
Lazard’s Aramco win gave Pigasse prestige outside France, making him a top candidate for U.S. rivals.
Earlier this year the 51-year old banker held talks with Mediobanca <MDBI.MI> over a possible move to the Italian investment bank, led by Chief Executive Alberto Nagel, two sources with direct knowledge of the talks told Reuters.
Mediobanca was not immediately available for comment.
Milan-based Mediobanca has also been seeking to win market share in France and Pigasse contacted the Italian firm in March while it was in the process of buying a 66% stake in French advisory boutique Messier Maris & Associés, a deal announced in April, the sources said.
Pigasse did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.
Other newcomers in France include Perella Weinberg, the investment bank founded by Joe Perella and Peter Weinberg, which opened an office in Paris in 2018, luring French bankers from Bank of America and Goldman Sachs.
Perella was recently appointed by French engineering and digital services firm Altran as its sell-side adviser during takeover discussions with business consultancy firm Capgemini, several sources said.
Centerview is also among those on the lookout for French rainmakers, a source familiar with its strategy said, and would only launch a Paris office once a senior dealmaker was available.
Moelis has opened an office on Paris’ Champs-Élysées and it has advised international clients looking to buy French assets.
(Additional reporting by Greg Roumeliotis; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)