Computers Take Over Goldman
As Goldman Embraces Automation, Even the Masters of the Universe Are Threatened
“Everything we do is underpinned by math and a lot of software,”
In addition to back-office clerical workers, on Wall Street machines are replacing a lot of highly paid people, too. Today, nearly 45 percent of trading is done electronically, according to Coalition, a U.K. firm that tracks the industry.
Marty Chavez, Goldman Sachs’s incoming CFO, has helped the firm become more automated. At its height back in 2000, the U.S. cash equities trading desk at Goldman Sachs’s New York headquarters employed 600 traders, buying and selling stock on the orders of the investment bank’s large clients. Today there are just two equity traders left. Automated trading programs have taken over the rest of the work, supported by 200 computer engineers. Marty Chavez, the company’s deputy chief financial officer and former chief information officer, explained all this to attendees at a symposium on computing’s impact on economic activity held by Harvard’s Institute for Applied Computational Science last month.
The experience of its New York traders is just one early example of a transformation of Goldman Sachs, and increasingly other Wall Street firms, that began with the rise in computerized trading, but has accelerated over the past five years, moving into more fields of finance that humans once dominated. Chavez, who will become chief financial officer in April, says areas of trading like currencies and even parts of business lines like investment banking are moving in the same automated direction that equities have already traveled.
Now areas of trading like currencies and futures, which are not traded on a stock exchange like the New York Stock Exchange but rather have prices that fluctuate, are coming in for more automation as well. To execute these trades, algorithms are being designed to emulate as closely as possible what a human trader would do…Goldman Sachs has already begun to automate currency trading, and has found consistently that four traders can be replaced by one computer engineer…about one-third of Goldman’s staff, are computer engineers.
Next, Chavez said, will be the automation of investment banking tasks, work that traditionally has been focused on human skills like salesmanship and building relationships. Though those “rainmakers” won’t be replaced entirely, Goldman has already mapped 146 distinct steps taken in any initial public offering of stock, and many are “begging to be automated,” he said.
Reducing the number of investment bankers would be a great cost savings for the firm. Investment bankers working on corporate mergers and acquisitions at large banks like Goldman make on average $700,000 a year, according to Coalition, and in a good year they can earn far more.
If you want to understand this evolution of the investment management business, this is useful. Geeky, but valuable;