Five things you’ll have to give up if you move from Wall Street to Silicon Valley

February, 2018

In the Media

By: Dan Butcher

It’s still winter on Wall Street, when financial services professionals dream of moving to warmer climes. You could take a vacation and come back when it’s warmer in New York, or you could consider moving to a place like California, either for another financial services job on the west coast or a position at a technology startup or an established Silicon Valley firm.

However, look before you leap, because there are things you’ll miss if you move from the New York tri-state area to the San Francisco Bay area.

You’ll miss the pace

Some people love the beating pulse of Wall Street and wouldn’t want to leave, says Jeanne Branthover, managing partner at DHR International.

“A lot of people get turned on by it,” Branthover says. “A lot of people like the quality of life in New York, working hard and being directly compensated for it.

“It’s different in Silicon Valley – the mindset is different,” she says. “If you’re a Wall Street person, a New Yorker, then you’re extremely competitive, and you’re used to a fast pace, whereas in Silicon Valley, you march to the beat of a slower drummer.

“Most of my candidates who’ve moved to Silicon Valley and come back say, ‘You always think it’s going to be better back there, but you’d be surprised that it’s not.

Former Wall Street people who are now, say, on a corporate strategy team at a tech company often miss the fire and fury of investment banking.

“They miss the dynamic nature of it,” says Brianne Toole, a vice president at Selby Jennings, who moved from New York to San Francisco last year. “If you’re not working on an acquisition at a tech firm, then you’re not working on much, and some personality types miss the constant challenges of Wall Street – they miss the rush of banking on the east coast.

You’ll miss the “cheap rent”

It’s extremely expensive in Manhattan, but the cost of living is even higher in Silicon Valley.

“The rent is even higher in San Francisco, and it’s harder to find cheaper alternatives in the surrounding areas,” Toole says.

Branthover concurs that “it’s even more expensive to live in San Francisco than in New York – housing actually more expensive there.”

You’ll miss the great transport system

Once you get used to a subway network that runs 24/7, it’s tough to adjust to a city where all public transportation (other than an owl bus) shuts down at midnight.

“Some people live in Oakland to save money on rent, but the infrastructure of public transportation there and in San Francisco is nowhere near as good as it is in New York,” Toole says. “If you don’t live right by the BART or Muni line, then you’re taking a bus or an Uber to work.”

If you live outside of San Francisco in Silicon Valley, then you have to drive everywhere, and the traffic is bad.

Big tech firms do have shuttle buses from San Francisco to wherever in Silicon Valley the corporate HQ is, but at small-to-mid-sized firms, you’re on your own.

“If you’re driving around the Bay Area, the traffic is really bad,” Toole says. “It’s a tough commute from Silicon Valley into San Francisco.”

You’ll miss the money (unless you get equity in a startup that becomes a unicorn)

While you may get an equity state if you join a Silicon Valley startup, that is like being handed a lottery ticket, given the high percentage of startups that fail. Your all-in compensation will probably be higher working on Wall Street.

“Wall Street is money-driven – you’re leaving that behind,” Branthover says. “Silicon Valley is product-driven and technology-driven, which is a different type of focus.

“Chances are the bonus potential is much higher on Wall Street than in Silicon Valley, but in the latter you’re going to get equity, and it the firm is successful, it could eventually be worth much more,” she says. “On Wall Street, you might be able to earn more right away, and you have significant upside if you can eventually make partner.”

Joining a start-up is risky, whereas banks are pretty stable.

“You’re constantly under pressure for getting funding if you’re at a startup, the pay is lower and you’ll have a lower bonus potential,” Toole says. “At a lot of these companies, co-founders are not as equipped to handle the finances of a startup, and many are overspending without getting enough funding to stabilize them.

You’ll miss the food

This one is admittedly controversial, and certainly different people have different tastes. Both New York and San Francisco have world-class seafood and Asian cuisines, and while the latter gets the nod for Mexican food, the Big Apple has (at least) two huge culinary advantages:

“Pizza and bagels aren’t as good out here [in San Francisco],” Toole says.

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