Allow, if you will, a stereotype to help illustrate a story. Open the closet of any man or woman who works on Wall Street and you’ll find two things: a grey suit and a navy blue suit. These constitute a dress code, uniforms in their own right, indicative of the wearer’s profession.
In many ways, this wardrobe embodies exactly how the financial industry once operated: monochromatic (read: homogeneous), conservative and far from creative or self-expressive. But old-school institutions like JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs are taking a cue from industry newcomers and trading in button-downs for Birkenstocks.
Goldman Sachs recently opened a new office in San Francisco and is fully embracing the Bay Area’s notoriously casual approach to dress code. The Goldman space will be home to the engineering arm of the 149-year-old company’s newest venture, Marcus,* a digital consumer bank slated to see $1 billion in revenue by 2020.
But to generate that revenue, the firm will need to attract and retain top talent — no easy feat in Silicon Valley. In a city dominated by brilliant CEOs and genius coders guised as teenagers in jeans and hoodies, lace-ups it appears must take a back seat to high-tops.
“This is a big company, making a strategic change,” Jeff Winner, the company’s lead engineer, said of the firm’s push towards appealing to a younger demographic. “The simple thing would be to recruit a team from all the big financial players. But we’re specifically recruiting from Silicon Valley. And big tech.”
Goldman Sachs isn’t alone in their effort to move towards a more laid back dress code. In June 2016, JP Morgan announced that it would be moving to a company-wide “business casual” mandate for employees. The push, according to the Wall Street Journal, came shortly after CEO Jamie Dimon met with tech startups in Silicon Valley and realized his company’s dress code policies were out of date.
But “business casual” can raise questions rather than solve problems. At JP Morgan, the company memo outlined “polo shirts, casual pants, capris, and dress sandals” as acceptable, while stating jeans, “athletic shoes, flip flops, sweatpants, leggings, yoga pants, hats, hoods, halter tops, or anything else ‘distracting, tight, revealing or exceptionally loose or low-cut’” is frowned upon, Business Insider reported.
The JP Morgan memo provides more information than others — such as Pricewaterhouse Cooper in Australia. The accounting firm was forced to revise its dress code in the country shortly after it sent home a female employee for failure to wear heels to work in 2016.
“It’s not a dress up or dress down policy — all we are asking our people to do is think about what they are doing each day, who they are doing it with, and dress in a way that reflects that,” said Sue Horlin, a partner at PwC Australia, in a Telegraph interview.
The shift in wardrobe mandates throughout the industry belies a larger trend: the financial world no longer caters to tradition, neither in its dress code policies nor in its practical application. Like the staple suit and tie, established financial institutions like JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs were heavily rooted in Baby Boomer financial trends, such as active investing. Not anymore.
Instead, we see companies, old and new, putting Millennials first — aiming to attract the demographic’s business like they attract the demographic’s talent: through comfort. And Millennials are particularly comfortable when it comes to technology. Let’s revisit our example of Marcus. The company is noteworthy not only because of the dress code evolution, but because the platform is working hard to appeal to a younger crowd.
Marcus is not alone. Ally Bank, Simplii, Finn and others are all digital-only banks that understand Millennials care less about having access to physical bank branches and more about perks. Finn touts customized tools to help young people save money to reach big financial milestones, while Ally Bank offers one of the industry’s highest-yield savings accounts at 1.5%.
Goldman Sachs dress code is only two words — dress appropriately. What is appropriate within financial services has changed as the buyers of those services have changed. As consultants at the forefront of industry change, we at Vested are agile, too, and adapt to meet our client’s communications needs. We’ve illustrated this though work we’ve done for the launch of personal finance app Clarity Money, as well as targeting more consumer-facing press for Better Mortgage.
Putting our own spin on the two-word dress code, we advise our Vesties to dress “smart stylish.” We are unabashed finance nerds and want our people to convey that in how they dress. At the end of the day, we do work in finance, so we expect our people to act like the owners they are, to dress professionally and be confident in whatever they’re wearing. Being agile and adaptive means that we may come to work one day expecting to focus on deliverables and instead be pulled into a meeting with an institutional bank’s board. Be smart.
But we’re also creatives and recognize that personal style is a form of creativity. We challenge our employees to bring to the table fresh and progressive ideas that defy the confines of traditional finance. And it’s more than to do that in an orange shirt versus a white one, in a dress rather than a suit. The industry isn’t homogenous anymore, and neither are we. So long as we are professional and prepared and look as smart as we are, then adding some creativity is kosher. Be stylish. Smart stylish.
*Marcus recently acquired Vested client Clarity Money.