Friday 25 May 2018

Goldman Sachs unit 'getting rid of stuffiness' as it ditches suits for jeans and runners

(eranicle/Getty Images)
(eranicle/Getty Images)

Dakin Campbell

There's no sign on the door, no dress code, and kombucha flows freely from a tap in the break room.

Goldman Sachs' new San Francisco office bears few of the buttoned-down Wall Street markings the New York investment bank typically sports. The vibe is decidedly US West Coast start-up, and that's the way Jeff Winner likes it.

Hired in January to run what will eventually be an 80-person office, Mr Winner helps lead the engineering team for Marcus by Goldman Sachs, the firm's digital consumer bank that's supposed to take in $1bn (€814m) in revenue by 2020.

Competing for talent with the likes of Google and Amazon means out with bespoke suits and in with jeans and runners.

Goldman Sachs is embracing the West Coast start-up ethos in its San Francisco office, headed by Jeff Winner (p) Photo: Bloomberg
Goldman Sachs is embracing the West Coast start-up ethos in its San Francisco office, headed by Jeff Winner (p) Photo: Bloomberg

The bank still has a "significant amount of stuffiness, but they're getting rid of it", said Mr Winner.

Mr Winner (55) moved to Goldman after stints leading engineering teams for Twitter, Uber, and most recently Stripe, the payments giant founded by Limerick brothers John and Patrick Collison.

The start-up culture Mr Winner is pushing is part of Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein's drive to adapt the 149-year-old firm to a world in which technology underpins almost every pursuit and recruits demand a flexible work environment.

Mr Winner brought updated interviewing techniques to developing Marcus, including structured, rubric-driven interviews and pair programming, where two people sit together and take turns writing and evaluating code, he said.

Prior financial services experience is discouraged as he tries to infuse a more entrepreneurial culture throughout the company.

What's different with Marcus is that engineers weighing a move to Goldman Sachs can see the product before they arrive for their first interview, according to Omer Ismail, the unit's chief commercial officer.

Since they interact with banks in their personal lives, they can more easily understand their underlying mission.

Their job includes a weekly meeting that starts with recordings of two customer service calls: one handled successfully and another that ends with a dissatisfied customer.

"Engineers like taking complex problems and removing the friction for end users," Mr Ismail said. "They see how financial services are broken in their personal lives."

A decade ago, Goldman Sachs became shorthand for politicians demonising Wall Street greed as a cause of the financial crisis.

And the industry's thicket of regulations and decades-old mainframe infrastructure made it seem stodgy to a generation of computer scientists looking to move fast.

With the backlash mounting over Facebook's sale of consumer data and Amazon's influence over a struggling brick-and-mortar retail industry, finance may be becoming an easier sell.

That's not to say there isn't more work to do.

"This is a big company, making a strategic change," Mr Winner said. "The simple thing would be to recruit a team from all the big financial players. But we're specifically recruiting from Silicon Valley. And big tech." (Bloomberg)

Irish Independent

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