Image: The Wolves Of Wall Street
If you’ve ever considered a career in finance, I’m told, chances are you’ve found yourself trawling the forums of Wall Street Oasis at some point. First started in 2006, Wall Street Oasis (often referred to on the site as WSO) is an online community for aspirational bankers; a digital watering hole where college kids with rich ambitions go to seek job advice, swap interview horror stories, and obsess over the lifestyle they one day hope to be a part of. It’s where the cubs of Wall Street cut their teeth—and share fashion tips.
The site offers blog posts by some regular contributors and a chat room, among other features, but most of the action happens in the forums. There, users join anonymously and refer to each other as “monkeys.” There’s a points system based on how much you contribute to the community—collect bananas to climb the ape hierarchy.
Topics of discussion range from the serious and useful, such as resume tips and interview advice, to the more lighthearted and superficial, such as the extensive fashion section. Here, sartorially challenged monkeys obsess over whether their new Gucci wallet looks “douchey” and what colour a “charcoal” suit actually is. One of my favourite recent threads managed to be both a Patrick Bateman-esque discussion about “reputable” pen brands and an extended penis joke in one.
It’s a whole online world that’s largely ignored by anyone outside of the rather niche community, and it’s growing from strength to strength. Running the site is founder Patrick Curtis’ full-time job, and he also started JDOasis.com, a similar destination for aspirational lawyers, though he’s now trying to sell that property as he feels he doesn’t have the time to run it right now. Instead, he’s focusing his efforts into harnessing data gathered from the WSO community about different companies—things like who they employ and how much they pay them—in order to build both a database for the site’s users and an asset he could sell to the industry.
I spoke to Curtis over the phone to learn more about how Wall Street Oasis got going, how well it actually reflects Wall Street culture, and where it’s headed in the future.
Motherboard: Let’s start at the beginning. How did Wall Street Oasis get started?
Patrick Curtis: Well, I started the community back in 2006 while I was still working in private equity. It was initially called iBankingOasis for investment banking, and I tried to just make it a place where people could come to kind of vent their frustrations about working 100 hours a week—a place where they could go as an oasis; a place to get away where they could commiserate with each other on how long their hours were and the type of work they were doing.
Over the years, it’s kind of morphed into a way for young finance professionals to mentor college students trying to break in, so we’ve had a big surge in traffic due to a lot of college students trying to find an edge or see what it’s like on the inside. We kind of found a niche of students trying to break in and professionals trying to give back.
You actually left your job in finance to run the site, right?
I did. I ended up in 2008 going to business school to get my MBA at Wharton. I knew when I left my private equity firm that my goal was to build the community, build the business to a point where I wouldn’t have to necessarily go back, and then I could run the business from anywhere in the world—to be free, travel, and not have an office. That was the goal at the time, and I did that. I ended up moving down to Buenos Aires in 2010 when I graduated and was there four years before moving back to my home town, Boston. That’s where I am now and I ended up meeting my wife and getting married.
Aw, great. And how many members do you have on the site now?
We just passed 200,000 members. However, I’d say in terms of members that have actually registered and logged in and have at some point used the site, it’s probably closer to 150,000.
And you all call each other “monkeys.” Why is that?
This goes back to a famous book called Monkey Business, back in I think the ‘90s [it was actually published in 2001], that kind of profiled the life of an investment banking analyst. He basically called it Monkey Business because the young junior analysts are always considered monkeys in the industry, where they’re basically just sitting at their keyboards for extended hours and a lot of times the senior guys say, “Oh, a monkey could do this job.” A monkey that can work very hard.
The reality is, the kids who go in this direction are very smart, the top of their class, but the name kind of stuck and a lot of people joke around that they’re just a monkey in their cube. We tried to play on that theme when we initially started to try to make it more fun. When you join the community you actually start out as a chimp and as you earn bananas—and the way you earn bananas is by contributing to the community—you graduate to different rankings, so you end up becoming a monkey, then a gorilla, then an orangutan, then a baboon, and eventually a King Kong when you have a thousand bananas.
We knew it was important to have not just another dry business social network. These people are at their office so long, they’re looking for a bit of entertainment. With that said, we didn’t try to make it all about very serious stock pitches or very serious career advice at first. It was trying to be fun and joke around with each other, play around with some of the stereotypes out there.
Some of my favourite discussions are the fashion tips…
Yeah! I don’t know if you’ve heard of a blog called The Leveraged Sell-Out? You have some of the snootiness that goes along in there, going into the forums. The funny thing is, the guys in there, a lot of them do it as a joke in and of itself. They don’t necessarily believe that; they do it almost to perpetuate the stereotype. Like, “You can’t wear square-toed shoes unless you’re in the back office,” that type of stuff.
Some of the questions are ridiculous, because you have people asking about what colour cufflink—they get so bogged down in the minute details
How accurate do you think discussions on Wall Street Oasis reflect the real culture of Wall Street?
When you get to fashion discussions like that, you have people joking around more. Some of the questions are ridiculous, because you have people asking about what colour cufflink—they get so bogged down in the minute details, they think that’s going to make a difference. So people have fun with it a little bit; it’s not necessarily a reflection of the culture.
But I think for the most part it is pretty accurate. You get to see what their interests are, what they’re talking about. They talk about cars and where they go out for a nice meal, things along those lines—they do talk about things you’d expect them to talk about. Though there are deeper discussions as well; religion and politics—politics are always a very hot topic, a hot button issue, and it’s interesting to see both sides argue.
What’s the biggest controversy you’ve seen on the site?
There’s one that’s almost a record thread, that was a discussion “Do you believe in God?” It’s always religion or politics, as you’d expect, especially on a forum where not only are they anonymous but they’re pretty opinionated people. You can imagine the difficulty moderating such a forum and trying to keep things civil. That’s one of the things that’s hardest with a community of 18- to 25-year-olds, predominantly men—it’s about 80 percent men that actually register and 20 percent women.
It’s tough, a lot of them will pound their chest and say this is the right way, you’re wrong, you’re stupid. That’s a challenge with the community, but it also makes it more interesting. And you do get a lot of people giving thoughtful opinions and thoughtful advice, and you learn a lot from reading it.
Reading through some of the discussions, it all seems very aspirational. Are there actually any established Wall Street workers on there, or does everyone tend to leave once they’ve got a job?
No, we actually have what we call “certified users.” First off, the community would not work without actual professionals on there, because when it becomes just college students giving advice to each other, they quickly get into arguments and it becomes much more petty, whereas we have sort of a tiered structure on the site where it’s not just bananas and rankings next to your name but we have certified users. So if someone has a star next to their name, that means we’ve actually confirmed anonymously that they actually do work in the industry. What we try to do is get as many people as possible that are actual professionals to certify themselves. That way, people actually listen to them, number one, number two give them respect, and it also shows we have real professionals on the site.
I think overall people are just trying to give back and have fun. They see themselves back when they were in college
So if someone says, I am an investment banking second year analyst, we try to privately connect with them and say, "Can you connect with me on LinkedIn to confirm that this is you?" And if they can do that, then we’re able to go to their account, certify it, and it’s a win-win for everybody. We try to give them some bonuses: we allow them into a private chat room with other professionals; we put their status, that little star next to their names so that people know and hive them respect. So I think it works because we give them some free stuff, we give them some private access to areas of the site, and I think overall people are just trying to give back and have fun. They see themselves back when they were in college and so they like to help people in their junior, senior year for example, they try to help those people follow in their footsteps.
And what does the future look like for Wall Street Oasis?
We’re really excited about the future, primarily because we’ve collected a lot of data from our community surrounding compensation and interviews, and company reviews as well. We have something called the WSO Company Database, where we have been collecting for the last two years thousands of data points on interviews and on compensation, and we’re going to be releasing in the next month our second annual Compensation Report, which goes through the different banks and the different positions, and what the average base pay is and the average bonus is.
We’re displaying some of that data in our company database right now. If you go to any company—say Goldman Sachs—and you look at their overview page, it would show you what percentage of the interns are given full-time offers, the overall ranking of the company from one to five stars; it would show you how well they pay relative to other positions; it would also show you the interview difficulty level and the overall experience of the interview. Our plan is to take that in and bring more and more interesting overall data into the company overview page, but then eventually we’ll be able to sell to the banks some of the more detailed data on the back end, or sell it as a package as a way to look at where they stand relative to other investment banks and other people in the industry.
That could be something along diversity as well, because we’d be able to say, “Hey, here are the interview statistics you have—here are the number of people you’re interviewing who are white, black, Asian, Hispanic, and others,” so I think that’s going to be an interesting trend. We realised it’s nice to have a community but something we’re strong at is having that strong sense of belonging there. There’s no reason we can’t ask our community to give us that information so they can all benefit. And I think they’ve kind of taken that seriously and it’s been kind of shocking to me how fast it’s grown over the last couple years. It’s exciting.