Morning Coffee: Goldman Sachs' office: pet fish, trophy bikes and funny smells. The next battle in the robot revolution

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Morning Coffee: Goldman Sachs' office: pet fish, trophy bikes and funny smells. The next battle in the robot revolution

If you spend more time in your office than you do in your home, then it’s natural to want everything to be just so.  This is even more the case when you’re a large global bank like Goldman Sachs and you’ve just spent a huge amount of money on a brand new state of the art London headquarters.  But new buildings have teething troubles – the central heating needs time to settle down, plumbing needs to be tested in use and some things which seemed perfect at the planning stage turn out to be surprisingly annoying when used in real life. 

At present, for example, the biggest gripe for employees at the big black building at Plumtree Court is apparently the lifts – they’re agonisingly slow.  Two minutes to travel a few floors doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a long time when you’re raring to get back to the desk.  There was also, on the day when reporters got guided tours, a malfunction in the canteen ventilation system which caused the ground floor to smell of fish and chips, again something which doesn’t sound too bad but which could easily get irritating if you don’t become inured to it.

Other than that, though, the new building sounds pretty sweet.  There’s the obligatory parking garage full of extremely expensive ‘trophy’ bicycles (some of them used daily, some of them perhaps not).  There’s a “child centre” with a climbing wall and pet fish. There’s a rooftop garden, plenty of wood and a surfeit of natural light to help you stay awake and beds for catching up on sleep when you can’t. There’s a massive gym in which junior employees can be scarred for life at the sight of partners air-drying.  There’s a vegan food area and a salad bar, which is apparently considerably less generous with its portion control than the old one in Ropemaker Place.

Undaunted by their new and airy environs, Goldman bankers seem to have made the space their own.  Observations from City Am suggest fleece gilets are out in force and footballs are still thrown back and forth. A random whiteboard suggests Goldman has arrived at a new slogan (“If you don’t like change, you will like obsolescence even less!”) as an alternative to its old ones (“Long term greedy!”, “Just add butter!”).  

Overall, and despite the absence of free beer, Goldman’s new London office seems like the sort of place that would have been called “a WeWork-style environment” right up until precisely three weeks ago.  It all seems very millennial and designed to impress the latest young graduates.  This might be optimistic. Fashions tend to change a lot faster than architecture does, and who’s to say that when the pendulum swings back again, airless claustrophobic trading floors full of skyscraper Bloomberg screen layouts won’t be the style once more?

Separately, automated trading of bonds has been “just around the corner” for years now, leading some sceptics to call it “the market of the future which always will be”.  The problems are well-known; bonds aren’t like equities (they have different coupons, maturities and other special features) and bond markets aren’t like equity markets (there are lots of hold-to-maturity investors and it’s much more dangerous to give away any insight into your inventory).  But banks and fund managers have been building “digital assistants” to look through their holdings and sort out the best bids and offers, and it was only a matter of time before someone started to add the extra layer of execution.

Now that’s happened – AllianceBernstein’s “Abbie” robot has done three trades with her/its counterparts at Citi, Morgan Stanley and RBC.  It’s early days yet and the structural issues haven’t necessarily been solved, so it’s not necessarily going to happen just like in equity trading.  But the second phase of automation is here in the bond market, with possibly huge consequences for long term career prospects.

Meanwhile …

Goldman Sachs has set up a ‘business continuity’ trading floor in an actual WeWork office in central London somewhere. (FT)

Something of a new name in investment banker hiring, but BMO Capital Markets is staffing up with the ambition of taking market share in North America as European players leave (Bloomberg)

After having spent many years bashing their banks, the Swiss government is gradually learning to love them again; as major export earners, the Swiss investment banking industry are being invited to join in and help shape foreign policy. (Finews)

A machine learning-powered “robo-auditor” quickly learned to distinguish the innocuous looking fake names used by strip clubs on credit card receipts and occasioned some awkward conversations about expenses claims (Financial News)

In the world of real auditors, Grant Thornton has lost a dozen senior partners, some rather brutally described as “legacy management” as it attempts to cut costs. (FT)

UBS as a case study in efforts to improve career mobility, its “Career Navigator” internal jobs board and the “UBS University” (Gallup)

Lord Andrew Fraser (who was, pre-ennoblement, the Head of Equities at Baring Bank when it collapsed) has been arguing with Extinction Rebellion protestors, in his bathrobe.  (Evening Standard)

If banks are moving systems to the cloud, then (assuming they don’t all invest in private cloud teams like JP Morgan) shouldn’t the regulators be conducting examinations of Amazon and Google? (Quartz)

Putting all the “it’s not so bad” stories into context, the European bank regulators have been saying that banks which haven’t moved staff out of London because of Brexit, should have done. (Bloomberg)

Automated AI-based filters were meant to reduce discrimination and remove human bias from the hiring process.  Unless carefully overseen, they could end up making things much worse (NYT)

Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Contact: sbutcher@efinancialcareers.com in the first instance. Whatsapp/Signal/Telegram also available.

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Photo by Delbert Pagayona on Unsplash

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