Paranoia and payouts: what it's like when you leave Goldman Sachs
It's been a busy year for departures at Goldman Sachs. As we've variously reported, the firm has cleared out senior people from its fixed income sales and trading business in preparation for the appointment of a new round of partners in November. Now, you might think that those senior people would now be willing to reflect upon their time at Goldman Sachs now that they no longer work there. Wrong.
Goldman Sachs is like Fight Club. The first rule about Goldman Sachs is that you do not talk about Goldman Sachs - especially after you've left.
There's good reason for this. Leaving Goldman Sachs is not as simple as leaving a room. If you're made redundant from Goldman Sachs - if you "retire" in the Goldman vernacular - you will almost always do so with a large dose of stock from previous years' deferred bonuses. That stock only becomes available over time, and if you do something that contravenes your 'exit agreement' - like talking to the press - you won't get it, ever.
"Goldman Sachs will own me for years," says one of the senior people who left Goldman in 2016. For how long? "Until 2021," he says, "The stock comes in drips until then."
Goldman is by no means the only bank to operate this kind of restrictive policy. London employment lawyer Ronnie Fox says most banks operate some sort of post-termination confidentiality agreement. "I recently dealt with someone [from another bank] who had a very interesting story to tell, but he was prevented from doing so by his termination agreement," says Fox. "His previous employer promised to pay him sums of money over the next few years if he kept his nose clean and didn't tell anyone."
The duration of Goldman Sachs' confidentiality restrictions is unusual though. Fox says most banks only tie people in for one or two years: a five year restriction is almost unheard of. It clearly makes sense to Goldman though: by 2021, revelations about the inner workings of Goldman Sachs in 2016 will be mostly irrelevant.
Also unusual are the lengths ex-Goldman staff will go to in order to avoid being busted if they do contravene the firm's demands. "They have speech recognition software," one Goldman veteran tells us. "You need to scramble my speech patterns or they will know who I am." Another insists that "the firm" is able to subpoena private emails and LinkedIn messages, and that the only safe spaces to talk are therefore encrypted email and messaging services like Shush and What'sApp.
While this all sounds a bit paranoid, it's easy to see why ex-Goldman staff are so keen to comply. Goldman Sachs pays its senior people notoriously well. Regulated staff in London earned an average of $2.3m in 2014 (the last year for which figures are available), of which $834k was in restricted stock. With Goldman stock usually restricted for a minimum of three years, senior people could easily leave with around $2.4m still on the table. And getting a high paying job after Goldman Sachs isn't as easy as it used to be. Instead of leaving Goldman and joining the government, it's now more common to leave Goldman and become an investor in tech start-ups - something you can't do without all that deferred bonus money. "It's just not worth it. I'm putting millions of dollars, my entire lifestyle at risk," says one.
Nor are Goldman's ex-junior staff (who don't have any deferred stock) any more willing to talk openly. Even if you just spend a few years at Goldman, you'll leave with contacts who could prove helpful for the rest of your career. One ex-junior explains that he plans to tap his Goldman network for advice and investment and therefore must not be associated with anything that could be considered disparaging by his former colleagues. "My network from Goldman is immensely useful and I have no intention of doing anything that will jeopardize it," he explains.
Once a Goldmanite, always a Goldmanite. Just don't expect to leave Goldman behind when you leave.