Kanna Kunchala spent over 17 years in investment banking, as a managing director at both Goldman Sachs and Barclays investment bank across London and New York, but this was never part of the plan.
Kunchala started out at Goldman at the age of 30 after completing an MBA at Kellogg School of Management in 2001. While all his classmates were rushing to tech start-ups, he decided to accept an offer at Goldman Sachs. The dot-com bubble burst shortly after.
“It was rough, and not just for those who chose tech,” he says. “There were 105 associates in my class at Goldman Sachs. Within four years, I’d say there were 10 people left.”
For Kunchala, investment banking was supposed to be a means to an end. Up until his MBA, he’d worked as a speechwriter for the City of Boston, and spent three years straight out of college at a charity called City Year.
“I’d always intended to spend three years in the corporate sector, and then return to community service. But Goldman got me, and then offered a move to London. After a few years, Barclays hired me. There was always something new on the horizon, and we had kids. My stay in finance was elongated.”
Kunchala worked at Goldman Sachs for over 10 years, in emerging markets and European equity derivative sales before moving across to Barclays in 2012, where he spent the best part of six years. In August, he finally got around to quitting banking.
Call it full circle, but last month Kunchala quit Barclays, left London and returned to Boston to work for City Year. Now, he’s a senior vice president at the charity, which intervenes for children in high poverty areas who have gone off track with their schoolwork – typically around the ages of 9-11 - and uses a network of volunteers to get them back on the straight and narrow to high school graduation.
Kunchala says that his new role involves fund-raising for City Year from individuals, rather than sponsorship from organisations. Not surprisingly, he’s been calling former colleagues and clients, hoping to convince them to donate. “I wish it was as easy to get them to accept my calls when I was selling equity derivatives,” he says.
City Year started out in the U.S, and has outposts in 28 cities across the country. It also started out in the UK in 2010, and now has offices in London, Birmingham and Manchester. It has also been backed by funding from financial services organisations like Bain Capital, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Credit Suisse to scale up over the next three years.
Kunchala says that he retained close links to City Year throughout his time in investment banking, and also convinced Jonathan Beebe, Barclays’ former head of equities for EMEA, to sign up as a trustee. Beebe has since tutored six students from Tower Hamlets himself.
“Both Goldman and Barclays gave me the latitude to do volunteer work. If this hadn’t been on the table, I’d have left banking a lot earlier,” he says. “The reality is, though, that it was the pull of volunteer work that led me to leave, not being pushed out of banking.”
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