Business

Goodbye New York, Hello Arizona

Wall Street trader Image copyright BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty
Image caption Areas outside of New York are seeing faster growth in the financial sector

Financial jobs in the US have finally rebounded but they're not growing where you might think.

The subway stops near Wall Street are still crammed in the mornings yet financial firms in New York - once the centre of the money universe - aren't expanding the way they used to.

Companies in far-flung states such as Arizona and Texas are seeing the rise in financial jobs instead.

The shift in part reflects population trends in the US, where states in the south and west - often dubbed Sun Belt states - are growing faster than their counterparts in the north.

Image caption Texas now has more finance and insurance jobs than New York. (Source: BLS)

It's also driven by growth in insurance, investment advice and consumer lending jobs, over the trading and securities roles historically based in New York.

Just as important, companies say, is that new technology and the rise of online banking means they can look more broadly when making location decisions.

"You don't need to go into a bank anymore. You don't need a brick-and-mortar building. You can do it from anywhere," says Gay Meyer, assistant vice president for regional human resources at the banking and insurance company USAA.

"That allows us as a company to think outside of, 'We have to be in New York or have to be in Chicago'."

'Influx of people'

As the economic recovery takes hold and low interest rates persist, demand for home loans, credit cards and other products has picked up.

That's translated into jobs. The number of finance and insurance jobs in the US expanded by 1.8% over the 12 months that ended in March, finally rebounding to pre-financial crisis levels.

New York remains home to about 8% of those positions. But at the end of 2014, Texas overtook it as the state with the highest number of jobs in the sector.

Meyer is based in Arizona, a desert state on the border with Mexico that is better known for the Grand Canyon than banking. But over the 12 months to March, hiring for finance and insurance jobs grew faster than any other state in the country.

Its rise as a regional financial hub is fuelled by expansions from companies such as USAA, State Farm and Charles Schwab, which have been drawn to the area by affordability, booming population and a large pool of university graduates and potential recruits.

USAA, an insurance and banking firm that serves military and veteran families all over the world, hired nearly 600 people in Arizona last year, as demand for credit cards and mortgages boomed, Meyer said.

Image copyright MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty
Image caption Tourists know Arizona as home of the Grand Canyon

Forty minutes south, insurance giant State Farm hired about 2,000 people in 2016 and expects to bring on a similar number this year, in roles such as customer service, sales and IT, said Naomi Johnson, a State Farm public affairs specialist. She transferred to the Phoenix-area campus last June after working for the company for 16 years in her home state of New York.

Johnson, 39, said she's seen the way the job growth is boosting the local economy, spurring new food and shopping spots to open.

She regularly gets calls from builders, checking on hiring - the campus now holds about 6,600 and the firm is aiming for 10,000 - as they start new housing projects.

"I'm constantly sharing that information because they're preparing for this influx of people," she says.

Limitless opportunities

New York leaders are aware their lead is slipping.

In 2015, the business association Partnership for New York City published a report titled At Risk: New York's Future as the World Financial Capital.

It called for "public actions", such as tax breaks and investment in transport and housing, to keep New York competitive with international rivals and the smaller US cities nipping at its heels.

Now banks are cheering signs of looser regulation under US President Donald Trump.

The tumult caused by the UK vote to leave the European Union last summer has also fuelled hopes that London's loss could be the Big Apple's gain.

"There are a lot of discussions with people saying Prague, Amsterdam may be the next financial centre in Europe, but meanwhile the US may get its own share as well," says Ahu Yildirmaz, co-head of the research institute at payrolls processor, ADP.

"Brexit may actually make New York more of a centre."

But the momentum outside of New York is unlikely to stop. ADP announced its own expansion in Arizona last year with plans for 1,500 jobs.

'Not in New York'

Ascensus, a financial company headquartered in Pennsylvania that handles back-office operations for financial advisors, plans to open an office in Arizona this year with about 170 people and room for more.

Chief executive Bob Guillocheau said the industry is in a good position, as the country ages and relies more on private accounts to pay for retirement, college and health care.

For his firm, which provides record keeping and administrative services for the accounts, the opportunities to grow are "sort of limitless".

But it won't be happening in New York, he says.

"I grew up in New York. I know that New York has a tremendous amount to offer, but given the nature of our business... it's not that we need to be in New York City to do that."

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