I'm an SVB employee who lost more than $1 million. Here's the inside story of our struggle to survive.
- An anonymous Silicon Valley Bank employee gave Insider a firsthand view of the bank's collapse.
- The intensity meant two or three hours of sleep each night. Some workers forgot to eat.
Over the last two weeks, Insider has conducted a series of interviews with an employee of Silicon Valley Bank who gave a firsthand account of the bank's March 10 implosion as experienced by rank-and-file staff. Their identity is known to Insider, which agreed to keep them anonymous due to the sensitivity of client relationships. Their account has been edited for length and clarity.
The messages I was getting that first weekend, it was like being at your own wake. "You were so wonderful to work with." "SVB has been such a great pillar of support." These are the kinds of things people say about you when you're no longer here!
Now, we've gone through that moment, and we're kind of resurrected. The best-case outcome, which I think is unlikely given the brand's tarnishing, is that we operate as a wholly owned subsidiary. The more realistic hope is that we get sold off. The bidding has been opened up to non-bank institutions. It closed on Friday.
At first, the communication from management was dismal, both to our clients, and to us. We didn't know what was going to happen to us. We didn't know what we could say to clients, yet we had every client under the sun calling us. All wires had stopped. Nobody could get any money out. We were on the front line.
Now, my boss has said that top management will communicate with us more directly. My boss is part of what's become known as the "war room" at the Palo Alto, California office. That is the only office that's remained open during all this. It's where the department heads are sitting down with the folks from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, or FDIC, and trying to figure everything out. The head of product, the head of credit, and so on are meeting with them.
In fact, we had no idea in advance that any of this was going to happen. My team learned that the FDIC had taken us over during an internal-team call, when it was on the news. We didn't get an internal email about it from management until a few minutes later. We had no way to get ourselves ready — they kept us in the dark. So there was shock, and some tears, as well.
During the first few days, the greatest frustration on our team was that no one was telling us what we could tell our clients. It was never, "you're not telling me what's going to happen to me, personally." The people who were actually working at SVB weren't asking about their own homes, or their kids' college educations, even though those things were at risk as well. Until today, everybody's focus has been the clients. Selfish behavior, during that first week, did not exist. It was chaos. I ate one bagel each day, and slept for maybe two or three hours each night.
We spent a whole weekend on the phone, email, chat, any sort of way to get in touch with the VC firms, partners of the VC firms, operating partners, CFOs, anybody we could to try and get them to rally.
The weekend after the FDIC takeover was crazy. Originally there was a list of 13 VC firms, which said they were willing to sign a statement saying that they supported us. We needed to grow that number. We spent a whole weekend on the phone, email, chat, any sort of way to get in touch with the VC firms, partners of the VC firms, operating partners, CFOs, anybody we could to try and get them to rally. I think the number is at 630 supporters as of today. It's been amazing to see the VCs themselves rally and create this awareness. Many folks had our back from the beginning. Once they knew their money was safe again, other folks changed their tune.
I wouldn't even say that they were rallying for SVB. It was for an institution like SVB to exist, for the sake of the innovation economy. Our goal that first weekend was to get as many clients as we could on board. Because if they're on board for support, that will help send a signal to the Fed or the FDIC to step in in some capacity. And they did — it worked. On Sunday, when the Fed said, "We'll make depositors whole," that was a huge sigh of relief for VCs trying to make payroll. We'd had so many clients tell us that they might have to shut down or cover payroll by borrowing with a personal guarantee.
You would expect irate clients, because their money is stuck and their operations are stuck. This is their lifeblood. Yet, I have not had a single frustrated or irate call with a customer. Every call I've been taken has been full of empathy and support. It's been calm. And that makes you feel even shittier, because if someone is angry at you and being a jerk, you can think, "Whatever, there's only so much I can do." But everybody was so empathetic, so I was like "I really, really want to help you. I just don't know what I can do." My team has called, emailed, and texted hundreds of clients. It hasn't been complaints so much as questions — but not irate questions.
The secret sauce of SVB has always been the people. Now I am hearing from former customers who rushed to open up accounts at Wells Fargo, Chase, JP Morgan, you name it, saying that the beginning was great in opening the accounts. But now it's been a few days, and they don't have a person to call. They have to go through the 800 number. These founders are not used to that. They've been getting the red-carpet, silver-platter treatment at SVB. Whether you've raised $5 million or you've raised $500 million, you have a dedicated person. That doesn't exist in traditional banking. The founders are learning that now — they don't have someone to go to for their wants and their needs.
Last weekend, I was finally able to get a good night's sleep. I ate some actual food. I went to an event and ate a full lunch — falafel, chicken shawarma. I'd been eating nothing but bagels for days. No one was eating those first few days — higher-ups had to remind us to keep eating.
I've tried to ignore the personal side of this, but we've lost a lot. Many employees get more than 50% of their salaries in equity — SVB stock — every year. My equity in the few years I've been here used to be worth more than $1 million. Now it's gone to zero. So here you have a whole group of people who lost everything personally, in terms of equity, and still the focus was, "Can my client make payroll?" That's the culture here. On an internal call, someone said that if we can stop the bleeding and the deposit outflow, that will be the greatest story ever told. It will be the people who worked here that saved it — this should be a Harvard Business School case study in customer service. I have never seen an organization come together like this. There is an internal poster, similar to The Avengers, except it has all the faces of leadership on it.
It's been said that we're too cozy with our customers. That's not how I see it. What's true is that a certain amount of our business involves investor support — having trust and faith in them. It is something that you build up over decades, working with someone through the good and the bad, having those tough conversations. The nature of our business is lending based on the customer's ability to raise the next round. That's not cozying up with the investors; it's getting to know your customers and their companies so you can know who leans in when it matters.
First Republic got a capital injection, Signature sold, Credit Suisse sold. And here we are, the people who started it. We still don't have someone. We're still in this state of uncertainty.
This week, for the first time, I went back into a physical SVB office. I just wanted to be with my colleagues. There were tears and hugs. I'd hoped there would be more laughter. There is still a lot of personal apprehension and stress for us. People are just now starting to think of themselves and their futures. The adrenaline rush has worn off now, and the reality is starting to sink in.
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