The Brain Drain From Finance

At Startup Management, they posted an article showing stats on where top business school graduates are going to work post graduation.  For the first time, grads are migrating into entrepreneurial jobs within the startup/tech community versus finance.

Meanwhile, just 27% of Harvard Business School graduates took jobs in finance this year, down from 35% last year. That figure dropped to 16% from 27% at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

And at Stanford Graduate School of Business, historically a haven for digitally minded graduates, tech companies overtook financial services for the first time this year, with 32% of the class accepting tech jobs and just 26% heading into finance. Two years ago, those figures were 13% and 36%, respectively.

The brain drain is so acute, the $CME Executive Chair wrote an editorial about it not so long ago in the Wall Street Journal.  There are a lot of factors behind this lack of affinity toward finance.   Government regulation, automation, and opportunity.  But, the financial firms target market doesn’t read the Wall Street Journal.  They read things like PandoDaily, TechCrunch and blogs.

Before you jump to conclusions, think about it from the techie/programmer’s perspective.   Decisions in life are costs vs opportunity costs.

Assume the programmer doesn’t have a lot of money saved up.

If they go work for a Wall Street or High Frequency Trading firm, they will be paid a nice salary.  The firm will pay them to program and trade the markets.  Their salary isn’t a salary like most people assume, it’s a draw and goes against their profits.

Suppose the draw is $150,000 per year.  That’s what they have to organize their life on.  Groceries, apartment, going out, car, student loan etc gets paid off that.  They write their code, and trade the market using the firms assets, and resources.

The firm allocates a fee for office space, co-location and all the other incidentals that come with trading.  The firm also owns the intellectual property created by the programmer.

Suppose the programmer has a bang up year in the market. Assume their  gross profit is $1,000,000.  Commissions and exchange fees might rip $200k out.  Next,  the firm allocates fees that are deducted.  These are different from firm to firm, but let’s assume they are $150,000.  Then, deduct the draw.  After that, 50% of the profit will go to the house, leaving $250k for the programmer.   Pay taxes and keep the rest.

Trading isn’t a snap.  I guarantee you that most first year programmers aren’t earning $1,000,000 trading.  At the end of the day, they are doing very sophisticated programming that is highly competitive.

If they leave the firm and go on their own, they lose all the resources of the firm.  Those resources give them quite an edge over the rest of the marketplace.  It’s easier to sleep at night when it isn’t your own money.  Friends of mine in the business say to startup a full service electronic trading firm with co-location and trading lots of markets takes $50M.

If I was a programmer and wanted to go it alone, it would take a minimum of $500k, which ironically is around the average money raise to build a scalable startup company.

What if they used their same skillset and did a startup?  What’s the money look like?  After all, HFT programming is probability based decision theory type programming.  Think of all the places in web 3.0 that can utilize that.  Medicine, Big Data marketing, social graph.  The list is long.

First, risk vs reward.  Most startups fail.  But, most traders fail too.  If you are a programmer and fail in a startup, you can find another gig.  Fail too much as a trader and you are out.

Next, pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

In trading, you can make a great buck.  If you are good, there is no limit to what you can make.  Each year, you start at zero.  Each year, you have to split with the “house”. But, if you are good, you can negotiate a better split.  When you quit, you have nothing.

In startups, you can make a great buck too.  If you are good, there is basically no limit to your upside.  Every year, you build on what you did before.  You keep as much equity as you can.  When you quit, you sell the firm to someone else and you may still have quite a bit at your disposal.  Then, you start another startup.

Why not give it a try?

For example, Sepsis is a $17 billion dollar problem in healthcare.  What if you were the one to solve it using probability programming?   Typically, the whole startup experience from beginning to end is seven to ten years.

When working for the startup, you don’t make anything.  Money is constantly tight.  Founders make around $90k-$150k per year.  It’s not Wall Street, and no one wines you and dines you at client dinners.  But Taco Bell is always around!

What’s that Sepsis company worth on exit?  A billion?  If you were the typical startup founder and owned 15% upon a sale, what would you net?  $150 million?

How long would it take a programmer to earn that kind of money in trading?

Business school students and programmers are logical, rational people. They are looking at the trade offs and choosing startups.  There is more financial potential with more lifetime long term gain.  The risk reward ratio tilts in favor of startups.

Long time traders have mentioned to me that they feel like they have wasted their lives.  They walk through the startup community and feel energized.  It’s easy to get plugged into the startup scene if you know where to look.  The good news for us is many highly successful firms over time were started by people in their forties and fifties. Ask Ray Kroc ($MCD).

tip of the hat to Abnormal Returns and Barry Ritholz

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