Bob Diamond already dramatically hiked headcount at his new firm

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Bob Diamond is a busy man. After taking over loss-making British stockbroker and investment bank Panmure Gordon in March 2017, the former CEO of Barclays this week invested in Kepler Cheuvreux, a French brokerage firm created from the combination of the former equity brokerage arms of Crédit Agricole, Julius Baer, UniCredit, Dexia, Swedbank and Rabobank. Diamond now owns 27.7% of Kepler Cheuvreux in a deal funded by his Atlas Merchant Capital investment vehicle and by Edmond de Rothschild Equity Strategies. - He's up to something.

That something may well involve expanding his new mid-cap empire. Diamond's hiring intentions at Panmure are well known. In April, the British bank hired Bill Dale, formerly head of research at Nomura, to expand its coverage of small and mid-cap companies in the UK. In May, Panmure also let it be known that it plans to double its UK headcount as it pushes into corporate finance.  What's less well known is that there's been quite a lot of hiring at Panmure already.

Analysis of the UK's Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) register suggests that the number of registered employees at Panmure has risen 17% since Diamond took the helm 15 months ago. Following the addition of 13 people, Panmure Gordon now has 88 UK registered employees in total. Recent additions include Emma Earl as a director in corporate finance (formerly of Cairn Financial Advisors), Charles Lesser as head of natural resources banking (formerly of Macquarie), Matthew Webb as an equity researcher covering food and beverages (also formerly of Macquarie), and Sandra Bjorck as an associate in the investment bank.

There have also been a handful of exits, including Duncan Monteith, a healthcare banker who went to Numis, and Mark McGuinness, a sales trader who left in February 2018 and has yet to resurface. Even so, the direction of travel is clear.

Not everyone at Kepler Cheuvreux is enamoured of their new part-owner. "Everything in the press concerning us is now about Bob Diamond," says one senior employee at the French firm. "But he is just one of several shareholders and doesn't have the controlling vote. Our aspirations are much bigger than Bob."

Laurent Quirin, chairman of Kepler's advisory board, said Diamond's investment will help the brokerage expand globally in an environment where MiFID II and bank disintermediation are creating opportunities. Kepler's traditional method of growth has been to create alliances with banks looking to outsource business areas, although Quirin said there may be organic growth too.

Some market observers have suggested that Diamond could look to combine Panmure and Kepler - a move which could lead to layoffs in London, where both firms have equity brokerage staff. The insiders we spoke to suggested this is unlikely, however. "This is just about growth," said one. "Kepler is looking for expansion opportunities both internally and through external alliances."

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