Every now and then I get a recruiting email talking about a “startup within a top bank” or “startup environment within a top financial institution.” If you are an engineer then you probably have received these emails too. This concept is completely ludicrous. I am not knocking working at a bank, just the selling point of a startup at a bank is a complete lie and bait and switch.
I am pretty sure big banks don’t even know what it means to be a startup or have a startup culture. The only things they know about startups is from what they read in FT (Financial Times) about game rooms at Google and what they see on the TV show Silicon Valley. I was once talking to a Managing Director at a bank and he was trying to understand why engineers were leaving. He said “I’ll put a damn Foosball table in the office.” Clearly he didn’t get how horrible it was to work in his group nor did he understand why engineers want to work at a startup. The old guard at banks sit on ivory towers and have no clue about how (many) engineers want to avoid politics, learn and use new technologies, make autonomous decisions, work in a relaxed environment, etc…
Even if there were some group within a bank that actually mimicked the startup environment, it is guaranteed to not last long. Banks are typically good with money and tend to have high turnover at the top. When a new big wig comes in he or she (probably he) will see this group as crazy, too big of a cost center, unprofessional, etc.. and will revert everything to whatever the bank standard is.
You can’t blame banks for acting like banks. You just have to be realistic with your expectations of what a “startup culture” within a bank will actually look like.