Why developers who've left big tech firms find banks a breathe of fresh air

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On the whole, young talent prefers to work at tech giants such as Google, Facebook and Apple over investment banks like Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan. The main reason isn’t earning power or the prestige of the company name, but rather how much employees enjoy the work at tech companies compared to big banks, according to a recent study. But people who have sampled life in both camps say that banks provide a “perk” that most tech companies are struggling to find: civil political discourse. – Or even no public discourse at all.

Interviews with several people who work at large technology companies and startups reveal a culture where political and social issues are openly discussed – a positive attribute in theory that too often creates division and animosity, they said. Meanwhile, employees at banks note that personal political views are rarely openly discussed at work, and that they’ve never witnessed internal clashes over politics. Two employees who previously worked at big banks in New York who now work at Facebook and a fintech startup report being happy with their decision to move on but lament the fact that their co-workers no longer leave politics at the door.

“Like most tech companies, Facebook employees lean liberal,” said the social network employee. “I have no problem with that. What I do have a problem with is the constant sense of acrimony at the office, particularly when an opposing voice speaks up.” Late last month, Business Insider reported on an employee divide at Facebook where roughly 160 workers joined together on an internal message board to protest the company’s “intolerant” liberal culture that is “dripping of hate” for conservatives. In late June, Google had to establish new company guidelines aimed at cleaning up the heated political and social debates that take place on its internal message boards.

Employees at investment banks report seeing a very different culture. “I wouldn’t say there is any internal pressure to not talk politics, from one side or the other,” said one VP at a New York investment bank. “People just tend to leave their personal opinions [on political and social issues] at home so they don’t get in the way of work.” He guessed that his employer, which he asked to remain anonymous, is split rather evenly between liberals and conservatives, though he acknowledged that was mostly an assumption. “A lot of the time, you have no idea where people are leaning [politically].”

That’s not to say political decisions aren’t discussed; they most certainly are. It’s just mostly done in the context of the business, he said. Potential trade wars, corporate tax cuts, Brexit and government-induced market volatility have had an enormous impact on how investment banks operate.

Ironically, the two biggest names in banking have talked openly about their personal political views, despite the rather tight-lipped internal culture on Wall Street when it comes to rank-and-file employees. Outgoing Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, who backed Hillary Clinton in the last presidential election, called Trump-era immigration policies that separate illegal immigrant parents from children “horrible” and “tragic,” and appeared to troll the president’s reported characterization of certain nations as “sh*#thole countries” by tweeting out a picture of the Statue of Liberty alongside the caption: "View from our building today reminds me that despite all the sh*t, American values will shine through." Blankfein noted during a recent chat with interns that he never uses his pulpit as the head of Goldman Sachs for his personal agenda, but sometimes feels compelled to speak on issues that affect Goldman employees, like immigration reform.

Meanwhile, J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon was one of several business leaders to sign a letter expressing “serious concerns” about the Trump administration’s immigration policies. Then, just yesterday, Dimon appeared to pick a fight with Trump, saying he could beat him in an election “because I’m as tough as he is [and] I’m smarter than he is.” Never known to hold back, Dimon then got personal. “And by the way, this wealthy New Yorker actually earned his money,” he said. “It wasn’t a gift from Daddy.” Dimon walked the comments back later on Wednesday, saying he let his sense of frustration get the better of him.

Comparatively speaking, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been rather mum when it comes to his personal political views, other than his public responses to claims that the social network was a source of disinformation during the runup to the 2016 presidential election. Yet, it’s employees at Facebook who appear more willing to speak their mind in the office than those working under the likes of Blankfein and Dimon.

A former MD at Goldman Sachs said that employees will often champion human rights issues – like LGBT, racial and gender equality – but rarely go public with overarching and polarizing political views because they don’t want to alienate co-workers and clients. “There is a time and a place,” he said, adding that Trump has made bankers and their clients a lot of money this year. Indeed, Blankfein noted in February, previous to his aforementioned comments, that he would bet “the economy is higher today than it otherwise would be” under Clinton, though he added that “we're not talking about all things. We're talking just about the economy.” That, it appears, is where bankers prefer to draw the line as well, at least when at work.

Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Contact: btuttle@efinancialcareers.com

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