In 2000, the U.S. cash equities trading desk at Goldman Sachs’s New York headquarters employed 600 traders, but today there are only two equity traders left. Automated trading programs have taken over the rest of the work, supported by 200 computer engineers.
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.
Today, nearly 45 percent of trading is done electronically, according to Coalition, a U.K. firm that tracks the industry. In addition to back-office clerical workers, on Wall Street machines are replacing a lot of highly paid people
Average compensation for staff in sales, trading, and research at the 12 largest global investment banks, of which Goldman is one, is $500,000 in salary and bonus, according to Coalition. Seventy-five percent of Wall Street compensation goes to these highly paid “front end” employees, says Amrit Shahani, head of research at Coalition.
For the highly paid who remain, there is a growing income spread that mirrors the broader economy, says Babson College professor Tom Davenport. “The pay of the average managing director at Goldman will probably get even bigger, as there are fewer lower-level people to share the profits with,” he says.
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, explains Coalition’s Shahani.
Goldman Sachs has already begun to automate currency trading, and has found consistently that four traders can be replaced by one computer engineer, Chavez said at the Harvard conference. Some 9,000 people, 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.