When we think about American finance, the default image is of a pinstriped banker on Wall Street. But increasingly financial services is shifting away from the traditional bastions of money.
In an analysis of recent and longer-term employment trends, we have identified the large cities –those with over 450,000 jobs – that are gaining jobs in financial services, a sector that employs 7.9 million people nationwide. Overwhelmingly, the fastest growth has been in cities not associated with high finance, but largely low-cost Sun Belt cities, which account for seven of the top 10 large metro areas on our list.
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In first place: Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale, Ariz., where financial employment has expanded 12.3% since 2008 and a remarkable 7.2% last year. Close behind in second through fourth are San Antonio-New-Braunfels, Texas, Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos, Texas, and Nashville-Murfreesboro-Franklin, Tenn. These metro areas have advantages beyond just warmer weather; all are places with affordable housing and no state income taxes.
The three metro areas outside the Sun Belt in our top 10 also enjoy lower levels of taxation and housing prices. St. Louis, Mo. (fifth), Salt Lake City (seventh), and Richmond, Va. (ninth), have begun to bulk up on financial jobs, largely to the detriment of the traditional money centers New York (44th), San Francisco (48th), Boston (55th), Los Angeles (57th) and Chicago (61st). Despite the current stock market boom, and good times for large banks, financial services employment in these cities has been stagnant in recent years. Since 2008, New York has lost 3.8% of all its finance-related jobs, while Los Angeles’ financial sector has shed 7% of its jobs and Chicago 6.7%.
Why Financial Services Are Moving
Current financial trends—accelerated By TARP and “too big to fail” regulations—have ledto a growing concentration of banking and financial services in the six largest money-center banks. In the first five years of the Obama administration the share of financial assets held by the top six banks soared 37% to account for two-thirds of all bank assets.
But as we have seen in other industries, that domination of market share don’t necessarily drive employment growth where the big banks are headquartered. Increasingly we are seeing the rise of what urban analyst Aaron Renn describes as the “executive headquarters,” where only elite employees and their support staff remain while the vast majority of jobs migrate to lower-cost places.
Given the advances in telecommunications technology, many of the core functions of banks can be conducted anywhere. Why have a midlevel salesperson or mortgage loan processor occupy expensive Manhattan office space when they could function as effectively from much cheaper space in Phoenix, Saint Louis or Richmond?
Pundits like to speak about “face to face” contact as critical in financial services. This may be true for putting together mergers or IPOs, or to concoct the latest derivative, but it doesn’t matter in taking care of customer questions, monitoring credit cards or administering offices in suburban strip malls.
The People Advantage
These smaller cities have advantages for both the financial institutions and their employees. For one thing, the cost of employees is much lower. According to salary reporting website Payscale.com, the median financial manager in New York or San Francisco costs $90,724 to $98,783, respectively; while one in Phoenix costs only $77,467.
But this is not just good for the companies. Employees who make less in St. Louis, Phoenix or Dallas often live far better than their counterparts who earn higher salaries in the traditional money centers. One big reason is housing costs, which are a third to half cheaper in the top cities on our list than in places like Boston (2013 median home price of $375,900) New York ($465,700), or San Francisco ($679,200). Compare that to $183,600 in top-rated Phoenix or $171,000 in San Antonio-New Braunfels. Even in Austin, with its surging growth in technology and its role as state capital and home to a huge public university, the median home costs a relatively affordable $222,900, according to the National Association of Realtors.
Sometimes it‘s not just lower costs. If you are servicing Spanish-language customers, for example, a location in San Antonio, Phoenix or Austin with their large Spanish-speaking workforces might prove convenient. If you are interested in trade finance, Texas, now the leading export state, might prove attractive. Firms concentrating on mortgages might also see advantages in locating in places like Nashville, Phoenix, Austin, Dallas and San Antonio, which are all expected to add many more households, according to a recent Pitney Bowes survey, than much slower-growing locales in California or the Northeastern seaboard.
And then there is the unique case of Salt Lake, another emerging financial powerhouse. Mormons’ linguistic skills have attracted loads of big international companies, such as Goldman Sachs, who need people capable of conversing in Lithuanian, Chinese and Tongan. Goldman has 1,400 employees in Salt Lake City, making it the investment bank’s sixth largest location worldwide.
People tend to see the growth of the biggest banks as confirming the notion that economic opportunity will continue to be concentrated in our elite, expensive cities. Yet in reality urban growth patterns seem to suggest that these cities cannot easily accommodate mid-skill or middle-management jobs. So even as decision-making remains ensconced in New York, Boston or Chicago, the flow of the vast majority of financial jobs should continue to head outward.
This competition may become all the greater if, as Deloitte predicts, financial service employment begins to spike with a long-term economic recovery. Nor will the emerging financial states be satisfied long-term with the bottom end of the financial employment pool. Palm Beach, Fla., for example, has set up an office to lure hedge funds out of the New York area, touting warm weather and much lower taxes.
Increasingly, some New York financial institutions are starting movemore critical roles to lower-cost areas, like investment advisory and technology jobs. Places like St. Louis, where the industry has grownand approaches critical mass, seem to be in position to make a serious bid for higher-end jobs.
Although no one expects Phoenix or Salt Lake City to overtake Manhattan as the financial center of the world, over time we can expect these cities to develop into important banking centers. Just as the move of automakers to the Southeast and tech companies to Austin, Salt Lake City and Raleigh remade the economic map of those industries, the shift of financial services to the new centers might eventually do the same in that sector as well.
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This story originally appeared at Forbes.
Joel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com and Distinguished Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. He is author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. His most recent study, The Rise of Postfamilialism, has been widely discussed and distributed internationally. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.
Michael Shires, Ph.D. is a professor at Pepperdine University School of Public Policy.