(Bloomberg) -- There’s no sign on the door, no dress code, and kombucha flows freely from a tap in the break room.
Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s new San Francisco office bears few of the buttoned-down Wall Street markings the New York investment bank typically sports. The vibe is decidedly West Coast startup, and that’s the way Jeff Winner likes it.
Hired in January to run what will eventually be an 80-person office, Winner helps lead the engineering team for Marcus by Goldman Sachs, the firm’s digital consumer bank that’s supposed to take in $1 billion in revenue by 2020. Competing for talent with the likes of Google and Amazon.com Inc. means out with bespoke suits and in with jeans and sneakers.
The bank still has a “significant amount of stuffiness, but they’re getting rid of it,” Winner said in a phone interview.
Winner, 55, moved to Goldman after stints leading engineering teams for Twitter Inc., Uber Technologies Inc. and most recently Stripe Inc., which sells software for running internet businesses. The startup culture he’s pushing is part of Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein’s drive to adapt the 149-year-old firm to a world in which technology underpins almost every pursuit and recruits demand a more flexible work environment.
To be an engineer at Goldman has often meant being relegated to the back office, or toiling away on internal financial models and products for institutional clients. Those somewhat esoteric roles made for difficult conversations with potential new hires, said Andrew Trout, who joined last year from payments startup Square Inc. to head Goldman Sachs’s engineering-recruitment efforts.
But that was before Marcus -- developed in isolation at the firm’s Manhattan headquarters in an environment designed to resemble a startup. With the 2016 launch of the online lender, the bank has developed more cachet with San Francisco’s tech workers, according to Trout.
“Marcus has been a great opportunity,” he said. “It’s deepened our knowledge and heightened our presence in Silicon Valley, and it’s provided us with access to talent that maybe we haven’t had in the past.”
Winner brought updated interviewing techniques to the task, including structured, rubric-driven interviews, and pair programming, where two people sit together and take turns writing and evaluating code, he said. White boarding is downplayed. And prior financial-services experience is discouraged as he tries to infuse a more entrepreneurial culture throughout the company.
The need for such changes might come as something of a surprise to Blankfein, who has for years touted Goldman Sachs as a technology firm. Its risk-management system, known as SecDB, is considered among the industry’s best. And Goldman engineers sat side by side with traders long before finance fell in love with quantitative analysts. A young engineer in the 1990s, Marty Chavez, has risen to the chief financial officer’s position.
What’s different with Marcus is that engineers weighing a move to Goldman Sachs can see the product before they arrive for their first interview, according to Omer Ismail, the unit’s chief commercial officer. And since they interact with banks in their personal lives, they can more easily understand their underlying mission, he said.
Part of their job includes a weekly meeting that starts with recordings of two customer service calls: one handled successfully and another that ends with a dissatisfied customer.
“Engineers like taking complex problems and removing the friction for end users,” Ismail said. “They see how financial services are broken in their personal lives.”
Here’s the pitch for potential recruits: Work on cutting edge micro-services architecture, not ancient systems. Use Agile development to speed new projects. Develop software natively in the cloud. Those techniques, despite being heavy on the industry jargon, are now being exported to other parts of the firm. (Kombucha, a fermented tea drink, might take longer to catch on.)
So far it seems to be working. Engineering applications from undergraduates and lateral candidates are up “substantially” year over year, Trout said, though he declined to give numbers.
A decade ago, Goldman Sachs became shorthand for politicians demonizing Wall Street greed as a cause of the financial crisis. On top of that obstacle, the industry’s thicket of regulations and decades-old mainframe infrastructure made it seem stodgy to a generation of computer scientists looking to move fast and break things. With the backlash mounting over Facebook Inc.’s sale of consumer data, Amazon’s influence over a struggling brick-and-mortar retail industry and Apple Inc.’s creation of allegedly addictive devices, finance may be becoming an easier sell.
That’s not to say there isn’t more work to do. Winner acknowledged that the firm’s intense focus on reaching consensus can be frustrating. And many employees in other parts of the bank remain skeptical, though they’re coming around, he said. Adding new colleagues used to doing things differently should help, he said.
“This is a big company, making a strategic change,” Winner said. “The simple thing would be to recruit a team from all the big financial players. But we’re specifically recruiting from Silicon Valley. And big tech.”
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