JPMorgan, Goldman and others are easing their dress codes in a bid for tech talent

The mention of financial giants like JPMorgan or Goldman Sachs conjures up images of staid suits, ties and corner offices in ivory towers. But for the last two years they’ve been trying to look more like the tech companies they so often claim to be. Now, they’re taking the next step by relaxing their dress codes.

Goldman’s workforce is nearly 70 percent millennial, according to a LinkedIn post by its head of human capital management. Last month, the bank relaxed the dress code for its tech employees, telling them to “exercise judgment in determining when to adapt to business attire.” It’s probably safe to say that if they aren’t meeting with clients, they need not suit up. Jeans are allowed, according to one Goldman engineer. Some people wear hoodies.

“It’s somewhat of a symbolic gesture,” said the engineer, something the firm can do to “not be seen as another stuffy organization but more as one that emphasizes creativity” and to “make Goldman engineering more attractive to millennials.”

Goldman’s move came a year after the almost 150-year-old investment bank launched GS Bank — an Internet-based savings bank for the masses — and months after it launched Marcus, an online lending “startup within Goldman” — two new digital businesses that require a lot of tech expertise.

JPMorgan Chase opted a firmwide business casual dress policy last summer, noting in an internal memo that “it may not be possible to dress business casual at all times or in all areas.”

That was just a couple months after the largest U.S. lender by assets moved its coders, data engineers and digital executives (who were mostly new to the banking industry) to a separate facility on Manhattan’s West Side, where casual dress is the norm. Some even sport Chase digital team hoodies, according to one employee. JPM and Goldman wouldn’t comment for this story.

“They’re not client-facing people, so we wanted to relax [the dress code] because the people we want to recruit are coming from tech companies where they can be more relaxed and casual,” the Chase employee said.

JPM is now reportedly in talks to triple the size of its new digital headquarters, expecting to expand grow its 700-person digital team to as much as 2,500.

Banking giants arguably can offer more varied work than tech companies, said Bhushan Sethi, PwC’s people and organization financial services leader. Only a small percentage of the Silicon Valley workforce work for the iconic brands, whereas banks have a big need for expertise in advanced analytics, artificial intelligence and robotic process automation to help people to manage their money.

“The culture of the firm is really important for tech talent,” he said. “If they come in feeling empowered, they feel they can make a change.”

Startup and bank cultures also are coming face to face through mergers and partnerships. Last year JPMorgan launched one in its actual offices called In-Residence, where the startups work side by side with the bank. While some startups will be acquired by banks — as in BBVA’s purchase of Simple, Capital One’s purchase of Level Money and Silicon Valley Bank’s acquisition of Standard Treasury — others like Finicity will partner with them.

Cultural boundaries also are blurring as banks move into tech hubs like Austin and Cincinnati. Citi FinTech, for example, the unit dedicated to mobile-first offerings that always comes to work dressed down and celebrates its nontraditional banking culture, is expected to move to the Cornell campus soon, according to a Citi employee.

“It’s not always about attracting talent; it’s also about how you integrate talent from the technology firms you’ve acquired,” Sethi said.

How Citi and Wells Fargo are creating cultures of innovation

It’s easier to change an organization’s technology stack than its culture or talent pool, and for banks, sometimes the biggest obstacle isn’t technology or regulation, it’s force of habit.

Wells Fargo and Citibank know that now. Both banks have created dedicated innovation units within their organizations in 2015 — Wells Fargo’s Innovation Group launched in July 2015 and that October, Citibank launched Citi FinTech — to help accelerate the banks’ delivery of digital products and services. Citi FinTech is specifically focused on mobile-first experiences.

Carey Kolaja, global head of product at Citi FinTech, and Sherrie Littlejohn, executive vice president of Wells Fargo’s innovation group, spoke at CB Insights’ Future of Fintech conference in New York Wednesday and talked about the challenges they’ve faced trying to rebuild company culture from inside.

Pushing the limits of ‘no’
Innovators get told ‘no’ a lot when they’re pitching new projects. Innovation can be too expensive to implement, too difficult to implement, or just plain old be out of line with regulatory requirements. A lot of that comes from bankers on autopilot that are just too used to the stodgy old bank culture Citi is trying to change.

“We still live on a lot of historical architecture, but what has really encumbered us is people, and the perception that the limitations are the regulatory environment,” Citi’s Kolaja said. “Changing the way people look at why the ‘no’ is there has been really important.”

That’s not to say that regulatory compliance isn’t important or that regulation isn’t there to protect people. But having leadership that pushes back on why people on other parts of the business say no to innovation has been a big part of the equation for Citi FinTech.

Kolaja explained that twice a week, the product team meets with representatives of the controls team, which oversees the pace of changes in products, processes and the legal and regulatory environment.

“We walk them through the user story and walk them through the product we want to build,” Kolaja explained. “In doing so we expedite the process, but the big learning there was we have people who say ‘you can’t do that.’” Often though, they say that “because it was an old policy or it was opinion.”

Educational opportunities
Technology moves so fast that it can seem natural to hire the right talent for its increasingly digital operations and processes from the outside. But Wells Fargo’s Littlejohn, said that as important as it is to seek new talent and partner with the right startups, it’s just as important to develop existing talent.

Banks have sought to invest more in young tech talent and data scientists and some are facing competition with financial startups over college graduates. While many say it can be difficult to find the right people, Littlejohn said she sees that as an opportunity for Wells Fargo, which might not be doing enough internal training and development around new technologies.

“Thats one of the roadblocks we have: we’re so busy operationally trying to keep things running that we haven’t seen a way to make room for ourselves to learn and train and teach and be curious about how to make this new world come to fruition,” she said. “We need to educate our team members to understand what these new technologies are.”

The fact that new technologies that automate antiquated processes removes the need for some jobs is a harsh reality, she added. Historically, whenever new technology has eliminated old jobs, there has also been job creation. Wells can foster the talent for those inevitable jobs internally as well as seeking new skills externally. She didn’t say if the bank is preparing for that now, just that it’s an area of opportunity.

“Culture is difficult,” she said. “Being afraid that suddenly you won’t have a job tomorrow — that’s real for people.”

Citi FinTech CEO Yolande Piazza: We’re not too big to change

Bankers like to say their organizations are actually technology companies with a banking license. At the end of the day, they’ve still got that large bank feel, but Citi’s fintech unit is dedicated to making its workplace feel like a startup.

Yolande Piazza has been at Citi for almost 30 years. Earlier this month, she was named chief executive officer of Citi FinTech, after acting as interim chief for seven months and serving as its chief operating officer before that.

Since Citi FinTech launched in 2015 it has been focusing on creating mobile-first banking experiences for its customers. In December it launched its first product, a mobile-first banking tailored to its Citigold customers that also includes wealth management services. A month before that it also opened many of its application programming interfaces to third-party developers through its API Developer Hub.

Tearsheet caught up with Piazza on her plans for the unit.

You’ve been at Citi almost 30 years and now you’re leading Citi FinTech. How has “fintech” evolved?
There’s a common misconception that large banking organizations aren’t able to operate like a startup, that they don’t have that mentality, that they’re too big to change. The word fintech without a doubt applies to startups in the space but a lot of that is how you pull in these startup-type organizations with the big banks to create a set of financial services that are orientated to the customer.

What’s an area of fintech you’re most passionate about?
Aggregation and insights. Looking at the future of banking, I believe we have a social obligation to the health, wealth and education for our customers; it’s about understanding their journey, what they want to do with their money and at what point in their lives they are. It’s also about helping someone understand where they fit within their demographic and helping them to meet their financial goals. If we can take out the legalese out of the messaging of banking and really help people understand the impact of the decisions they make — that will make a difference to people.

Many people dwell on technology when talking about digital overhaul. Can you talk about the importance of people?
We had the opportunity to pull a lot of very talented people from within Citi that had those experiences and blend them with a lot of external talent that didn’t necessarily come from the banking industry, from companies like PayPal, Amazon or IBM. We have people here who have started and run their own businesses. Bringing together that kind of talent to challenge different people’s experiences with money has made such a huge difference.

What has that blend of different talent and experience done for your work culture?
We’ve spent a lot of time creating a nontraditional banking culture. We operate in a very agile manner with the product, development, design teams working together in a completely integrated manner. They do their work through stand-up meetings on a daily basis, we don’t have offices – I do not have an office, I sit on the floor. We celebrate failure – if someone makes a mistake they actually win prizes for sharing that, all they have to do is demonstrate they learned something from it – to really create an environment of creativity and ambition for the product and how we serve our customers.

The Developer Hub also sort of brings those different talents together.
[The Developer Hub] actually covers 85 percent of the core services a customer performs. We wanted to expose many of our APIs to a much larger community, to be exposed to the services they’re working on and give them the opportunity to come to Citi to uncover and unveil where those hidden gems are, those additional opportunities. Instead of just focusing on ideas that target all things Citi and talking to our customers, we now have a whole new partner base of developers and tech organizations looking to integrate with us and can now use our APIs.

Do you ever run into problems being a bank and acting like a startup?
It doesn’t make sense with every project, especially when you’re dealing with backend legacy systems, so we identify where that process makes sense and get that deployed across Citi. It was also about changing that mindset. FinTech was set up to be able to prove we can operate at speed while protecting the customer and challenge our existing processes and protocols that makes it difficult to operate at speed.