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Morning Coffee: The JPMorgan MD whose wife slept with her head on a desk to be near him. How’s Barclays’ banking revival going?

Every now and then you come across a banking story that deserves wider circulation, so it’s worth firing up Google Translate to read this article in La Repubblica.  Marco Pistoia, the Global Head of Applied Research at JPMorgan, is widely known as a nice and humble guy, so it’s nice to see how happy he is to be profiled in his home newspaper.

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It’s also an interesting insight into JPMorgan, and into what Jamie Dimon is getting for his $17bn tech budget.  Pistoia is not your average banking IT guy – he has 622 patents to his name, including 100 in the field of quantum computing.

His job seems to be split into two parts.  “Applied Research” apparently means running a team that goes “walking around the bank, listening to problems, collecting data and creating algorithms to solve them”.  And in his other role as Head of Quantum Computing, he seems to be mainly working on things that will future-proof JPM in the event of a sudden leap forward that renders all currently existing cryptography useless.  According to Marco Pistoia, this might happen as soon as 2030.

How do you get a job like this?  It seems that the answer is in this respect much more typical of high-flying banking tech careers – you have to combine a pretty high level of mathematical ability with an absolutely extraordinary work ethic.  Having realized that maths was the thing he was best at, Pistoia got a job in IBM working in Sardinia.  Pretty soon after, he was talent spotted and transferred to North Carolina, where according to the profile “he started working like crazy”.

Crazy seems to be the word; during these years, his wife apparently came into the office at night and slept on a chair with her head on his desk, “because it was the only way she could be close to me”.  It paid off in career terms, as he was then further talent-spotted to go to the legendary Watson research centre in New York state; in order to make sure that things didn’t get too easy, Pistoia also decided to study for a doctorate.

And then he got recruited to JPMorgan, as the “zeroeth researcher” with responsibility to recruit a new applied research group.  Despite all of this success, he still apparently gets panic attacks before giving presentations; he also gets tears in his eyes every time he goes back to Italy, despite having lived in the USA for 28 years.

Fundamentally, this is a story about someone who realized at an early age that he had one possible area of advantage, and that he needed to invest as much as possible in developing it.  Not everyone is necessarily cut out for quantum computing, but as a general formula for success, it seems pretty logical.

Elsewhere, for the last few years Barclays has been one of those franchises which seems to reside in the corridor of uncertainty; it’s never done terribly badly, but never had quite the sort of run of success that would completely dispel all worries among its employees.  Venkat, the CEO, has indicated support for the investment banking business, but not exactly unconditional love, and one gets the sense that any misstep would bring back the activist investors demanding a major downsizing.

And so, it’s not been a great couple of news days.  Not only has JPMorgan stolen the top spot in the league tables in Barclays’ own backyard, they’ve also poached Douglas Melsheimer, a tech investment banking MD who only joined from Goldman last year.

Arguably, this sort of thing is part of the general ups and downs of business; bankers move back and forth all the time, and league table places aren’t the be-all or end-all, particularly for short periods of time in which the absolute volume of revenue was depressed.  But in an environment where everyone’s relying on Cathal Deasy and Taylor Wright to deliver sufficiently impressive results to forestall another cost-cutting program, it’s yet another demand on the employees’ (and management’s) ability to hold their nerve.

Meanwhile …

“When you chew enough glass, you learn to like the taste of your own blood”.  The metaphors in use at the new boot camp for crypto startups being run by a16z are pretty alarming, although it turns out that by the final presentations they were drinking wine and fruit juice like the rest of us.  (WIRED)

Have the “serious people” disappeared from Twitter?  Apparently, some in the industry used to find the comments made around conference hashtags interesting and useful, but that’s no longer so often the case.  Although it is noticeable that the site was able to start several bank runs last year, so it’s not wholly without influence.  (The Banker)

Possibly after seeing what happened to Marko Kolanovic, a number of Wall Street strategists (including Michael Kantrowicz of Piper Sandler and Tony Dwyer of Canaccord) have decided that having a target for the SP500 is “a poor form of explaining stocks” and an “inefficient way of communicating with clients”, so they’re not going to do it.  Ambitious juniors are presumably gritting their teeth. (Bloomberg)

The trailer for the next series of “Industry” is out, and it looks even more deranged (and therefore great) than the previous two. (Vogue)

Daire Browne, the long serving head of Americas equity research at Bank of America, has left “to pursue opportunities outside the firm”. (Bloomberg)

Are investment bankers “more overpaid than usual”? Or have efficiency ratios trended upward partly because of investment in tech and compliance, and partly because they always have a cyclical element?  Banker pay is variable, but employees are never asked to bear the whole risk of the industry cycle – and in parts of the industry like hedge funds where they do, average remuneration is much higher. (FT)

Nobody wants to be specific about the circumstances under which Beau Bohm left Deutsche Bank in April to go to Cantor Fitzgerald, but his lawyer wants it on the record that “the allegations made are offensive and false”. (Bloomberg)

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AUTHORDaniel Davies Insider Comment
  • Ja
    James Wharf
    4 July 2024

    Such a nice human touch. Ha has a very committed spouse.



    Jane Austen

    “Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance."

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