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Blurring the lines between Wall Street and Silicon Valley

Anyone for table tennis in the office? Wouldn't that be nice.

Three hours after New York financiers don a suit and tie and take the subway to work, San Francisco Bay Area venture capitalists throw on a pair of jeans and a button-down before driving to the office. It’s bagels and cream cheese for one group; breakfast burritos for the other. Black coffee versus soy lattes.

A day in the life of financial professionals on Wall Street and the West Coast are not alike on the surface. But is this really the case?

The culture clash between Wall Street and Silicon Valley

With the country’s biggest investment banks headquartered in New York, the city’s association with banking perpetuated the stereotype that working in finance meant long hours within a rigid hierarchy. Making money was the sole focus and ultimate goal.

On the other side of the country, the rise of the technology industry was making Palo Alto, Menlo Park and San Francisco a collective hot bed of venture capital activity. Funding the future tech required risk-seeking investors with an entrepreneurial spirit. And the leaders of those venture capital firms sought talent whose values aligned with their own. Where a candidate once worked or what school they attended were no longer the only important considerations.

Unless they were keen to go into investment banking, many young and bright financial services professionals were drawn to the opportunities and company culture to be found out West.

When the markets crashed in 2008, people saw how tenuous a career in investment banking could be. Over the past eight years, investment banking headcount has continued to shrink and banking can be an unsteady career option. What was the point of all those crazy hours and screaming bosses if big payoffs were negated by stomach-churning meltdowns?

Rise of New York’s Silicon Alley

In the wake of the Great Recession, New York found technology champions in Governor Cuomo, Mayors Michael Bloomberg and Bill de Blasio. All three have sought to create a better environment for entrepreneurs through initiatives like Digital.NYC, a public-private partnership to drive innovation across the city, and with aggressive tax breaks incentivizing tech companies to relocate to the Big Apple as well as throughout New York State.

Their efforts have paid off. The city is fast becoming a hub for innovation, spurred by flourishing start-ups in the areas of e-commerce and financial technology, a movement now known as “Silicon Alley.”

While Silicon Valley still leads the pack with close to 20,000 active start-ups, figures for New York City don’t lag far behind, in the range of 7,100 to 9,600, according to the 2015 Global Startup Ecosystem Ranking from Compass.

As the rise of technology in San Francisco and its surrounding environs prompted the proliferation of venture capital, so too has its rise in New York similarly affected the financial landscape.

Millennials in financial services

Once relegated primarily to the Bay Area, opportunities to work in tech venture capital now exist in New York. The increasing number of East Coast start-ups is changing attitudes about company culture and the work environment. Eager to attract and retain talented early-career-stage professionals, financial services companies are beginning to respond to the expectations of the millennial generation.

Goldman Sachs' precedent

One of the most apparent examples of this shift can be seen in Goldman Sachs Battery Park City headquarters in New York, a 43-story, $2.1 billion steel and glass building that the bank opened in the wake of the Great Recession. The bank’s employees can enjoy a soy latte at the cappuccino bar; dine at one of restauranteur Danny Meyer’s iconic restaurants; grab a workout; get their haircut; visit the optometrist; and pick out a bottle of wine on their way to dinner without ever leaving the premises.

For a demographic of people seeking work-life balance in a world where the barrier between the two has all but disappeared, New York’s financial institutions are beginning to recognize the importance of letting life happen at work – and even outside of work. Stories of associates being able to take two weeks off to volunteer alongside Doctors Without Borders or attend the once-monthly afternoon board meeting of a nonprofit in which they are involved are starting to circulate. It turns out that many millennials are passionate about making a difference, even those who work in financial services.

By no means are all organizations following in Goldman’s footsteps, but the bank has set a precedent, even if it's an aspirational one for many.

Blurred lines

That once distinct line between what it means to work in financial services on the West Coast and on the East Coast is beginning to blur. No longer are career opportunities relegated to a single region.

The traditional perception of New Yorkers as aggressive money-hungry professionals is quickly becoming outdated as technology drives innovation in company culture and operations, as well as its impact on hiring and the broader marketplace.

This transition is developing a more well-rounded financial services ecosystem in New York City and allowing tech-savvy professionals in the field to pursue their preferred career path without needing to relocate. Wall Street and Silicon Valley may not be so different anymore after all.

Gloria Mirrione is sector leader of financial markets at Korn Ferry Futurestep.

Photo credit: Fuse/Thinkstock

AUTHORGloria Mirrione Insider Comment

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