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The hot new start-up poaching banks’ technologists doesn’t do “quirky”

Privitar hiring

Tech firms are becoming less hipster, more hard-headed

Typical. Just as J.P. Morgan tries to get down with the ‘techies’ with new offices where developers can draw on furniture and strum on acoustic guitars, engineers are quitting banks for a popular new tech firm that seems, well, normal.

The firm in question is Privitar, a London-based fintech company that specializes in developing privacy engineering software. Privitar was founded in 2014 but received $16m in funding last July.  It’s now on the lookout for developers, and history suggests it’s partial to hiring them from banks.

Privitar’s most recent recruit is Henry Jones, a former associate on the securities compliance technology team at Goldman Sachs. Jones joined Privitar this month as an engineer. He’s the latest in a long line of ex-bank recruits to the firm, including: Aengus Rooney, who joined in October after 21 months at another start-up, preceded by five years at Barclays; Jo-anne Tay, who joined in May after 15 months at another start-up, preceded by two and a half years at Goldman and three years at Citi; and Vladimir Eatwell and Kieron Guinamard, who joined from J.P. Morgan and Goldman respectively in 2016.

While banks embellish themselves with all the latest gimmicks in their attempt to lure technologists, Privitar’s appeal appears to lie elsewhere. The firm’s website makes no mention of meditation rooms and in-house music-making facilities. Instead, it offers “fruit,” a “cycle to work scheme”, free phones, “top notch computers,” and 30 days’ holiday.  “On Friday, we try to finish a bit early to get together over a drink and share updates and stories,” it explains. So far, so conservative.

Privitar hasn’t filed any accounts, so its P&L remains a mystery. However, the company’s appeal to developers is likely more to do with product than profit. Ex-bank engineers at the firm say they’re working on big data and machine learning in the privacy space. Coupled with the lack of bureaucracy at a small firm, this is clearly considered more meaningful than working on compliance technology at a big bank.

Privitar’s success suggests banks might want to reconsider their approach. As the fintech sector matures, office gimmickry is likely to be replaced by the more middle-aged pursuit of good products and steady growth. Banks, meanwhile, appear to be moving in a more infantile direction; drawable furniture and jamming-rooms are all very nice, but they’re not going to persuade the top engineers to hang around.

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