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Why Citigroup’s head of structuring has quit the “uninspiring” trading floor to build an AI food app

Eating healthy doesn't have to mean bland

In 2011, Erwin Parviz had quit as global head of structuring at Citigroup to spend his time at the top of a mountain. Paragliding, climbing, skiing or any adrenaline-fuelled pastime occupied his days. As far as he was concerned, his days working for an investment bank were over.

“I was just tired of working on the trading floor,” he says. “Before the crisis, it was business driven, and all that was needed to thrive was an ability to make money. Afterwards, a different type of manager emerged and the people leading were very political. It was not very inspiring.”

As the head of structuring and quantitative investment strategies at Citigroup, Parviz said that the scope for innovation within the team was constant during the pre-crisis glory days – new products, new client segments and new geographies to move into. Then it became a more arcane job; helping clients manage their risk during relatively complex fund-raising deals.

“The creativity and thirst for knowledge was just no longer there,” he says. “I had to get out.”

Parviz is a fine art photographer and an adrenaline junkie, so the plan five years ago was to say goodbye to banking all together and try something new. Then the Russians came calling.

Parviz says that he was about to embark on a paraglide when he received a call out of the blue from Russian investment bank Sberbank, inviting him to an interview in Moscow. The bank was building its structured products team, and needed someone to lead it. Up until this point, he’d spent the best part of 15 years working in quant roles in London.

“I didn’t want to go back to banking, I wanted to take time off and regroup,” he says. “I arrived in Moscow in the middle of a grim winter. Snow was falling horizontally and blowing in my face as I made my way to an interview feeling slightly underwhelmed. But the people at Sberbank were interesting.”

Parviz was lured back into investment banking, and spent the past five years building the structured products team at Sberbank in the Russian capital, which he said was a “weird side-move” that worked out for him. But in April, he quit banking again – this time for good.

“It’s strange, because quants are suddenly in demand I’ve been contacted by some finance firms. It’s tempting, but I’m trying something different. I want to see what I’ve been missing,” he says.

Parviz has launched 100Nuts, a start-up app based around food and nutrition, underpinned with artificial intelligence. He says that he’s being “deliberately vague” about the concept while they work out the kinks in the technology, but essentially it’s an app that tracks what you’re eating and makes recommendations on what you really should be eating.

“It’s an exciting time, and is a refreshing experience after working in banking for so long. It’s fast-moving, and your product has to iterate quickly in order to be able to evolve, or it dies. Things are done in days or weeks, rather than years as they tend to be in finance,” he says.

Parviz has used his connections in Russia to access the plentiful supply of quantitative and data science talent on the ground. He’s also team up with other team members to bootstrap the venture himself before turning to external investors. Since starting the business earlier this year, Parviz says that he’s gained “strong traction” with online food producers and retailers and is moving back to London in order to launch into the UK and European market.

He says that the new venture is tough, but it’s also a chance to reinvent himself.

“What I’ve realised is that the idea is just 1% of the journey to actually making something. It’s a cliché, but it’s been hugely challenging but really enjoyable,” he says.

Have a tip, story or comment? Contact: pclarke@efinancialcareers.com

Photo: Getty Images

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