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Goldman Sachs President: Bring on the disruption

Goldman Sachs Hands Clients Losses In 'Top Trades'Goldman Sachs Hands Clients Losses In 'Top Trades'
A Goldman Sachs Group Inc. logo hangs on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York.Photograph by Bloomberg via Getty Images

Goldman Sachs knows technology is the hottest business sector, and the investment bank has wholeheartedly embraced a tech industry ethos. In addition to throwing parties at South by Southwest, the company’s President is a fan of disruptive technology. “Everyone has to think about technology disrupting some part of their business model,” Gary Cohn, President and COO, said Monday evening. He spoke at a panel hosted by the Partnership for New York City and New York magazine, held at the Times Square headquarters of Viacom.

A full one third of employees at Goldman Sachs (GS) are technologists, Cohn said. “We think every day about how we become more and more efficient in how we deliver product, knowledge, and pricing to our clients,” he said. “If you don’t realize the world is constantly changing and you’re trying to protect your own biz model, you’re doing your shareholders a disservice.”

He noted that a lot of the disruptive technology in the market today isn’t necessarily new. “They’re just delivering an old product better,” he said.

Cohn doesn’t believe the high valuations and free-flowing venture capital has created a tech bubble – there’s a “massive difference” between now and 2001, he says, because the highly valued companies are “real companies.” The proliferation of smartphones has created a “fundamental shift” in the world, and companies that take advantage of that will only grow in value, he said.

That includes Airbnb and Uber, who, like investment banks, have endured certain regulatory agonies. “We develop technology in this country that we regulate out,” Cohn bemoaned to a sympathetic audience of men and women in suits.

The panel’s final question – how do you all feel about a President Trump? – didn’t produce any eager takers. “So stupid,” murmured a woman next to me. (Unclear if she was referring to the question or to Trump.)

Cohn slipped out the door directly after the panel as a coordinator thanked him for speaking. “Happy to help,” he said. Expressing what must be the top fear of every Fortune 500 executive to appear on stage this year, he added: “Happy to not answer the question about Trump.”