Allstate pulls out of Derry office move - but US payments firm may cash in

Ebrington Plaza under construction in Derry, which could become home to US payments processing firm Fiserv. Picture: Hugh Russell
Gary McDonald Business Editor

AWARD-winning technology giant Allstate has abandoned plans to move into a new purpose-built 400-seat office block in Derry.

One of the biggest employers of tech talent in the north, it is understood to have had an option on leasing space at the Ebrington Plaza development, which is currently under construction by Draperstown-based Heron Property Ltd and due for completion next year.

But Allstate, which already has an office on Northland Road in the city, has indicated that it won't now be signing the contract to take on the extra capacity.

And it has since emerged that the new building - which will provide around 62,000 sq m of space - could now be earmarked by US financial services firm Fiserv, with the possibility of it bringing 200 new jobs to the Ebrington site.

Fiserv is a global leader in payments and financial technology, operating in more than 80 countries in a range of areas such as global issuer processing, global merchant acquiring and account processing.

It traded in the UK until 2019 as First Data before it then became part of Fiserv, creating a global leader in payments and financial technology, and most of the UK's 20 banks use its services.

Fiserv won't confirm for definite if it plans to expand beyond its current locations in the UK, but the company is understood to have been in talks over recent months with a number of economic stakeholders in Derry as well as SDLP leader Colum Eastwood.

And if Fiserv does follow through with plans to open in Ebrington Plaza, it will certainly soften the blow from Allstate's late withdrawal.

Allstate had enjoyed a significant growth spurt ahead of the Covid outbreak and had wanted to consolidate its operations in the north west (at one stage it had to hire 100 seats at the Catalyst science park building in Derry to alleviate its capacity problem).

But with the majority of its 2,000-plus workforce moving seamlessly to home-working during the pandemic it, like many others, has been reassessing its office space requirements.

The enforced shift to home-working has been relatively smooth across Northern Ireland, and there is an emerging view that businesses can reduce costs by allowing staff to work from home indefinitely or at least adapt some form of hybrid working model.

In March a survey by KPMG found that 17 per cent of chief executives in the north expect to cut their office space post-Covid, compared to 69 per cent last August.

Huge multinationals such as Unilever, and more recently Nationwide Building Society, have stated publicly that huge swathes of their staff are never going back to the office full-time.

And Mark Zuckerberg said he is planning to make adjustments to ensure that the 95 per cent of Facebook's staff currently working remotely could continue to do so on a long-term basis.

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