The differences between the West Coast and East Coast finance scenes
Do you want to start your finance career on Wall Street or in San Francisco? The finance culture on the East Coast is very different from that on the West Coast. If you're right for one, you may not be right for the other.
David Kilin would know. He started his career at Goldman Sachs in New York and was on the East Coast for a decade before moving to Los Angeles to start a new investment fund focused on public and private equity and debt. Last year, he relocated to the San Francisco Bay area to become the head of strategic finance at BlueVine, a fintech firm focused on small-business lending based in Redwood City, California, the heart of Silicon Valley.
“Between New York and California, you’ve got a very big difference in lifestyle, and that permeates into different workplace environments,” Kilin says. “There is a lot of transformation happening in New York, but it is still Wall Street."
Pretty predictably, San Francisco attracts innovators who are looking for something a bit different from their careers. “A lot of people come to New York to start and develop their careers in investment banking, consulting, accounting or so many positions on the buy side, and they progress along a typical path,” says Kilin. “In San Francisco, a lot more people in the finance world are coming to do something a little bit different.
“People I’ve worked with or went to biz school with on the East Coast have had more typical finance careers, whereas the ones who’ve moved to California have taken business-development or finance roles at new startups, they’ve started their own companies or they’re doing VC investing.”
It's not just the career paths though, it's also the culture. New York is black and white. San Francisco is the full rainbow.
“My first few days at BlueVine were filled with jokes about wearing collared shirts and dressing like a New Yorker – there’s a big difference in what people wear in the office,” Kilin says. “The Bay Area is a much more casual environment in the workplace – the focus is on being relaxed and innovative.
“The problem that New York has to overcome is that there is such a legacy way of doing things, [Wall Street professionals] have to move away from it,” he says. “In the Bay Area, you never had that – there weren’t tons of investment bankers and lawyers and accountants walking the streets like there are in New York so you could start from a cleaner slate.”
San Francisco is much less formal than New York, and the West Coast culture is characterized by innovation.
“It’s probably the most exciting place that I’ve ever been in from a professional point of view because of how much is going on in such a small, condensed place,” Kilin says. “In San Francisco, everyone is trying to innovate, improve and build something new.
“In New York, there is so much established infrastructure in the finance world, it’s almost a little harder to build something new,” he says. “In some ways, it’s easier, because there are so many resources around you, but it’s harder because you’re looking up at a bunch of giants standing around you.”
Los Angeles is stuck in the '80s
If San Francisco is at the forefront of developments in the 21st century, L.A. is a few decades behind. L.A. was a big player in the growth of mutual funds, distressed debt and private equity in the late 1980s, and while there are still plenty of buy-side firms and a few boutique investment banks in southern California, it hasn’t kept pace with the Bay Area in terms of financial services growth.
“L.A. missed out – whatever the prior wave of financial evolution was when things started moving toward more dynamic investing and hedge funds, L.A. didn’t participate over the past 15 years,” Kilin says. “There are large credit investors like [hedge fund] Oaktree [Capital] and large mutual funds like Pimco [which was founded in 1971] and Capital Group [which was founded in 1931], and they are very well respected and successful, but they’re institutions [that expanded their AUM and] formed [their reputations] in the ’80s [and earlier], and there’s not a lot of the recent wave of financial firms [in L.A.]
“That is starting to change, as there is some overflow from the Bay Area, which is an increasingly nice place to start a firm if you can,” he says. “Rents are cheaper [in L.A.] and the weather is great, but you don’t have the same venture capital or adviser structure you have in the Bay Area – that’s a hurdle, but there are drivers of fintech growth in L.A. and a lot of opportunity.”
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