If you leave Goldman Sachs, people will call you crazy. If you leave Goldman to found your own fintech company, people will say you’ve lost your mind. They might have a point.
Two years ago, I left my financial services career – which included Goldman Sachs, hedge funds and private equity – to start my own fintech company. Believe me, this transition is not an easy one. This is what changes forever when you leave a bulge bracket investment bank like Goldman.
Love or hate Goldman Sachs, you cannot deny that the name commands respect. I don’t want to be disingenuous, but do not underestimate the power of this gravitas. With this name on your business card and CV, opportunities open for you everywhere. This is not a myth – there’s even been academic research into the subject. Its ‘supreme’ status even means that can pay new starters a lower salary than its competitors, to no detriment to the number or quality of applications.
Moving to a start-up has meant that I’ve had to bang on doors previously held open for me. The dip in status is frustrating, but the fact that I am now seen on my own merits is infinitely more gratifying.
Being enshrined in Goldman Sachs’ global network of expertise means that you’re exposed to world-class coaching and training. It also means you have access to a network of senior bankers who can provide mentoring and know exactly what they want from you.
You’re on your own in a start-up. This means identifying and cultivating relationships from scratch, which is a huge challenge and knowing which people are worth working with is not always obvious. From a practical point of view, it means finding the right investment and incubation, but also hiring the right people and finding the correct environment for your business. It means the old method of trial and error, testing networks and relationships. But we’re a new business and that means we can’t rely on old models.
Goldman Sachs isn’t a fusty old boys’ club – believe me – it doesn’t rest on its laurels, hoping the status quo of financial services remains untouched. It innovates and invests, covering everything from drones to medicine. However, its hierarchy, processes and procedures sometimes trap it from acting beyond stakeholder expectations. Real change can therefore be rather a slow process.
In a fintech firm, innovation and disruption are at the heart of everything you do. It’s a survival technique – we’re the small players trying to disrupt the big players and that means creating something new quickly. You have to innovate continuously. This means that you get to attack the status quo with much more conviction than larger financial institutions.
Look around the upper echelons of government and financial regulation and you’ll find no shortage of Goldman Sachs alumni. Its Global Leaders Program is enabling it to successfully create the movers and shakers of the future.
But there are still issues with career paths. You are provided with a lot of development options, but careers at Goldman can be quite narrow. If the company has invested a lot of time and money training you up for a particular field, changing that trajectory is very tricky.
If you work in fintech you suddenly have to step up to become a leader. This means leading your team, but also understanding finance, technology and entrepreneurship. All the while you need to be constantly assessing areas that are ripe for disruption. There’s a severe drop-off in training opportunities when you leave Goldman, but the ability to shape your own career is invaluable.
Seriously, Goldman Sachs throws some amazing parties. In fintech, we celebrate when we have something to celebrate – record breaking credit lines, for example – but we can’t compare to the glamour of Goldman, who organise great celebrations and team trips.
All of this comes at a cost, of course. Intense work pressure, burnout. All of this has prompted Goldman (and other investment banks) to reduce analyst working hours to 70-75 hours a week and give them Saturdays off.
I’m not going to lie – the working hours getting a fintech company off the ground are also very intense. You’ll work comparable hours, but think of it this way – you’re shaping the future of the financial services industry – a more-than-fair trade, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Toby Triebel is the CEO and Co-Founder of multinational fintech company, Spotcap. He has 10+ years' experience in the financial industry, with Goldman Sachs and Finisterre Capital. Toby is an expert in fintech, emerging markets and alternative lending, and has spoken at numerous conferences including Wired Money, AltFi Australasia Summit and Money 20/20. He tweets at @tjtriebel.