HIGH VALUE LOCATION

At Goldman Sachs, Trump’s new economics advisor Gary Cohn outsourced thousands of US jobs to India

Obsession
2016
Obsession
2016

Updated Dec. 9 at 8pm EST

Goldman Sachs’ biggest office outside its New York City headquarters isn’t in the financial centers of London or Hong Kong—it is in the sprawling south Indian city of Bangalore, now officially called Bengaluru.

At the “Embassy Golf Links Business Park,” a neatly laid out campus with palm trees and fountains, nearly 6,000 Goldman Sachs employees do support and service work for the bank’s global operations, taking care of everything from banker payroll and IT to preliminary research for its analyst reports.

Goldman has grown sharply in India under Gary Cohn, the bank’s president who was tapped on Dec. 9 to be the director of the National Economic Council, one of president-elect Donald J. Trump’s top economic advisors. As president of the bank for the past decade, Cohn regularly touted the benefits of moving jobs from financial centers like New York to lower cost areas like Bengaluru or Singapore, as well as Salt Lake City and Dallas.

Goldman’s actions aren’t that unusual—since the early 2000s, US companies have moved several million white-collar jobs, from payroll to legal research to coding, to areas far from home, often in Eastern Europe and India. Surprisingly, as Trump makes punishing companies that send US jobs overseas a key focus of the new administration, the offshoring of service-sector jobs has been absent from the discussion.

Trump’s ties to Goldman Sachs, meanwhile (former Goldman partner Steven Mnuchin is Trump’s pick for treasury secretary, and another former Goldman banker is a key advisor), helped push the bank’s stock to highs not seen since before the financial crisis after his election. In fact, many of the US’s biggest banks who embraced moving jobs to low-cost areas have had huge stock rallies ahead of Trump’s swearing-in.

Goldman’s “High Value Locations”

Goldman Sachs was one of the pioneers of the offshoring process in the banking industry. The bank opened an office in Bangalore in 2004, to “provide critical support and service functions for Goldman Sachs around the world,” according to an emailed statement from a bank spokesperson in India.

In the early days on the Bangalore campus “we worked out of a temporary setup that had tin roofs,” said one member of the bank’s team in India who did not wish to be identified by name. Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein visited several times between 2006 and 2010, two former employees said.

The bank’s neighbors on campus include real-estate giant Cushman & Wakefield, IBM, Yahoo, and Microsoft—a total of 43,000 employees now work on that one campus alone. The Embassy Golf Links park is so renowned that it provides the opening scene for Thomas Friedman’s 2005 book that made outsourcing an international phenomenon, “The World Is Flat:”

No one ever gave me directions like this on a golf course before: “Aim at either Microsoft or IBM.” I was standing on the first tee at the KGA Golf Club in downtown Bangalore, in southern India, when my playing partner pointed at two shiny glass-and-steel buildings off in the distance, just behind the first green. The Goldman Sachs building wasn’t done yet; otherwise he could have pointed that out as well and made it a threesome. HP and Texas Instruments had their of­fices on the back nine, along the tenth hole.

As Wall Street cut costs after the financial crisis, banks shifted even more sophisticated jobs from financial headquarters like New York to locations in India, including statistical analysis, charting, and investment-banking research. These newly outsourced jobs were “middle office,” not back office ones, the type that would have been done by a freshly minted Wharton MBA in the US in the past.

Goldman’s “high value location strategy” is a “critical component of appropriately managing our human resources,” Cohn said in remarks to investors (pdf, pg. 8) in May of 2012. Putting employees in lower-cost places boosted Goldman’s bottom line, he said a year later. The bank’s “average compensation ratio,” or the percentage of its revenue that goes to paying employees’ salaries, fell from 47.3% between 2000 and 2007 to 38.9% in 2009 to 2012, Cohn said in a May 2013 presentation (pdf, pg. 6), thanks to shifting staff to “High Value Locations (eg Bangalore and Salt Lake City).”

Will Trump take aim at services too?

In the run-up to his inauguration, Trump seems to be focusing on retaining and creating manufacturing jobs in the US through sheer force of will. Given the combined forces of automation, lower wages elsewhere, and US companies’ commitment to sell and produce in foreign markets, that may be both “unrealistic and impractical,” as Quartz wrote earlier.

Manufacturing jobs in the US peaked in 1979, and have mostly been declining since:

The outsourcing of white collar jobs has been less severe, involving just a fraction of the manufacturing jobs lost, according to most estimates. Still, an estimated 14 million US jobs could be at risk, a UC Berkeley study found.

Total US office support jobs have declined sharply since their peak in 2001, about the time when companies started to outsource. Some of these may have been eliminated by software and the internet as well:

Outsourcing has already helped to hollow out some industries that once held the promise of lucrative careers, like law. US law firms still have plenty of lucrative client-facing partner positions. But much of the due diligence and legal research work that would have been done by recent law school graduates is now being handled by the booming “legal process outsourcing” industry in India and other low cost places. In recent years, US grads who amassed huge debts because of the high cost of law school have been unable to pay them back because outsourcing is shrinking the number of jobs in the industry.

But pulling support jobs like the ones that Goldman Sachs and other companies have pushed to India “back” to the US may be as impractical as forcing manufacturing companies to make everything in the US again.

For one thing, the employees at Goldman’s Bangalore office serve several of the bank’s offices, not just ones in the US, so it would be easy to argue they aren’t necessarily doing “American” jobs in the first place. The skills available in Bangalore to big banks just aren’t available in other low-cost locations in the US, one banker explained, like coders who can work in Japanese. Lower-cost workers are now built into the banks’ business model, and bank executives are unlikely to be willing to pay higher costs (and earn smaller bonuses) in order to move them back to the US.

The bank declined to comment on Cohn’s offshoring push, how its business model could change in the future, or his potential future role within the Trump administration.

Whether the Trump administration has the political will to tackle big banks though, is the big question. Besides the Goldman bankers already tied to the Trump administration, Trump owns shares in the big banks and companies that outsource according to his latest financial disclosure (a Trump spokesman said Dec. 6 that he had sold all his shares, but did not offer any evidence). JP Morgan head Jamie Dimon, a member of Trump’s economic advisory team, will lead the powerful “Business Roundtable” that lobbies Washington.

Trump’s transition team did not respond to emailed questions.

Goldman Sachs, meanwhile, is planning more expansion in India. In 2014, the bank broke ground on a new Bangalore campus that was touted as the biggest office-space deal ever in India when it was made. Goldman is spending $200 million on the construction of the 1.6 million square foot campus, and it is expected to open in 2019.

Image by Embassy Office Parks licensed under CC-bySA 4.0

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