While investment banks wax lyrical about their new employer brands and “values and beliefs”, many leaving the industry say it’s just not ‘fun’ any more.
Nikolay Storonsky joined Lehman Brothers’ emerging markets trading desk in 2006, just two years before the financial crisis hit, and after another five years as an equity derivatives trader at Credit Suisse, he quit last year to launch fintech firm Revolut.
“The industry changed, it just wasn’t as fun as it used to be,” he says. “It was very entrepreneurial, exciting and a meritocracy – if you made money as a trader, you were paid a percentage of the profits. These days, it’s a much more normal corporate culture and not as interesting.”
Storonsky launched Revolut – a ‘money cloud’ that allows users to exchange currencies at interbank rates and send cash through social networks with minimal fees – out of technology accelerator Level 39 in Canary Wharf.
“There are a lot of ex-investment bankers here,” he says. “It’s a very political environment in investment banking and some of the best guys have moved out.”
Revolut officially launched in March after all the necessary regulatory boxes were ticked to allow the product to roll out. So far, says Storonsky, 1.5m transactions have been carried out and this is currently growing at 20-30% a week.
For all the talk of the ‘fun’ side of investment banking diminishing, Storonsky believes that the most dynamic people in finance still exist in the sector.
“In investment banking you get used to dealing with very sharp people who are used to getting things done and willing to put in the work it requires,” he says. “One of the biggest challenges we faced getting the product off the ground was all the regulatory box-ticking. You deal with people in other parts of the financial sector who are less motivated to work and are much slower moving. We hit a lot of walls with these types of people.”
He also admits that working in investment banking gave him the funding to launch Revolut. He left Credit Suisse in June 2013, but had to develop and fund the product – with the help of co-founder and CTO Vladyslav Yatsenko – until launch earlier this year.
“Securing funding in fintech is increasingly competitive and it’s very difficult unless you have a solid product to present – this takes time, particularly in finance with all the regulatory hurdles,” he says.