26-year-old Jakob Aungiers knows what it’s like to work as a quant in financial services. As the head of quantitative development and technology for a new visualisation project at HSBC asset management in London, he’s got the kind of quant tech job that most quanty techy people aspire to. He’s also been a quant developer at Schroders. In both roles, he pioneered the use of machine learning to analyse market signals and derive meaning from giant data sets. – Beats model validation; being a quant doesn’t get much better than this.
Aungiers, however, is quitting. He’s leaving HSBC. He’s leaving finance. He’s leaving London. He’s turning his back on the life of a quantitative developer in banking, although he’s not giving up on machine learning altogether.
“I don’t want to spend the rest of my life thinking that I could be somewhere else, innovating, and creating something that could make a real difference in the world,” says Aungiers. “Right now, this feels about as far away from changing the world as it’s possible to be.”
Tomorrow is Aungiers’ last day as a quant in financial services. When he leaves, he’s taking a flight to Bali to decompress. Ultimately, he hopes to resettle in Australia, where he plans to work, surf and skydive: “I’d love to settle in Sydney. It’s a beautiful city with beautiful open areas and crazy out door activity. Everyone there is up early and jogging and keeping fit. It’s a great lifestyle.”
Aungiers’ beef is as much with London as with finance. He says the city is drab and unhealthy: “London is a concrete powerhouse. It’s good for many things, so long as those things involve drinking. But if you’re an outdoorsy person it has almost nothing to offer.” In the UK, other cities like Bristol offer a better standard of living, says Aungiers. Globally, there’s Sydney or Melbourne, or Barcelona, all of which combine city and beach life. “In London, everyone cares about working for the weekend, and at the weekend everyone goes out and hits the bars and restaurants and spends a ton of money, and then works again to do it all again the next week.”
Naturally, Brexit has played a role too. Aungiers, who was brought up in England by Czech parents, ultimately hopes to launch his own company selling machine learning solutions to places that can’t develop their own. But as Brexit approaches, he says he’s seen money sucked out of the London venture capital scene by worried European investors: “It’s going to be a lot harder to start a company here than it used to be.”
Starting a company is what Aungiers wants to do because he’s sick of big banks and big finance and the corporate world in general, and he says he’s not the only one. “All the finance firms I’ve worked for in London have had the same corporate spiel and same bureaucratic culture. There’s very little drive for innovation and people who try to make innovation happen get road blocked at every corner.” Aungiers says a third of his team have left this year and that colleagues who’ve spoken to top computer science students at graduate events have found few aspire to work in banking: “The corporate life is something that appeals to my generation less and less.”
Not everyone is supportive of Aungiers’ decision to jack it all in. “My family think I’m crazy – that I have a good job and shouldn’t walk away from it.” Aungiers too, confesses to some trepidation: “I’m absolutely shit scared, but if I don’t do this, I’ll always be living with a kind of ‘What if?’ scenario,” he says. “I want to lead a life that I actually feel in touch with.”