At first sight, Liberum Capital - the London-based equities brokerage and investment banking business, has plenty going for it. Fashioned from the ashes of the financial crisis, it's grown to house 156 staff, has a new(ish) office in New York City, is 100% owned by employees and - incredibly impressively for such a new firm - ranked second in the Thomson Reuters Extel Survey for small and mid-cap pan-European brokerage firms in 2014.
Scrape the surface, however, and there are signs that all might not be so shiny. Earlier this month, Simon Stilwell, chief executive and co-founder of Liberum, left the firm unexpectedly. The FCA Register suggests several others have also departed of late - not all with other employers to go to.
In March alone, the register shows that Kate Craig, an experienced mining analyst, Minh Tran, a junior banking analyst, and Michael Burt, a senior real estate analyst, left the firm. Calls to Liberum confirm that all have gone. Burt joined Exane, but Craig and Tran have yet to resurface. In February Peter Atherton, Liberum's highly ranked utilities analyst, Jon Stewart, Liberum's senior real estate analyst and Leonard Hendrickson, an ex-Merrill trader who was with Liberum in New York, also left. Atherton is now at Jefferies, Stewart is now at Standard Life Investments. Hendrickson's whereabouts are unknown.
Liberum wasn't immediately able to comment on the departures. However, recruiters say the bank has been acting to shore-up its franchise in the City of London. "Until a few weeks ago, they capped salaries at £150k," says one equities headhunter, speaking off the record. "- But they just increased this to £200k - which isn't bad given that most of the people they hire are at VP or executive director level." At the same time, however, Liberum's recent bonuses are said by recruiters to have been disappointing - which may explain the recent exits.
The staff flow at Liberum hasn't been entirely one way, however. Although recruitment has allegedly been put on hold post-Stilwell's exit, recruiters say the bank has been attempting to fill its gaps, In February Liberum hired Andrew Bryant and Jason Holden from Cenkos. Bryant is a technology researcher and Holden is a a gaming and technology analyst. It also hired Christopher Clarke, a corporate financier from PWC.
Will the new staff stick? A third of Liberum's UK-registered staff have joined the firm since October 2013 and despite the draw of shares in the firm, top performers don't always seem to stay around. Atherton, for example, spent two years at Liberum after leaving Citi and Stewart spent less than a year and a half there before leaving for Standard Life.
Questions also continue about the reason for Stilwell's departure. Liberum's most recently filed accounts are for the year ending December 2013, a year in which it paid an average of £146k. They show profits declining from £450k to £130k over a 12 month period. The bank is due to file its next accounts soon - at which point everything might become a bit clearer.