I'm commonly asked what investment management firms are like on the West Coast, whenever I meet people in the industry from the east. The northeast (New York, Connecticut and Boston) is obviously the Mecca of finance in the US. But there are also many finance firms dispersed throughout the rest of the country. These are five general differences between the IM industry of the East Coast vs. the West Coast. Keep in mind, these are generalizations derived from my experiences in the west and pertain mostly to asset managers.
West Coast is more Buyside, East Coast is Both
Whereas the northeast has virtually every type of finance firm imaginable, firms on the West Coast are typically buyside. There are plenty of investment managers in the New York area, but California is home to some of the largest fund companies. PIMCO, Western Asset, and BlackRock Global Investors are all headquartered in California, to name a few. Not to mention, Northern California is the place to be for Venture Capital. This isn't to say investment banks don't have offices on the West Coast, but almost none of the largest ones (unless you count WF) are headquartered there.
Not as Impressed in the West
It's a generalization, but it seems like many people on the West Coast are only overly impressed by people in the entertainment industry. In other words, for many westerners outside of the finance industry... A trader or investment banker can seem to carry as much buzz as any other office worker.
"West Coast Discount"
Not sure how true it is, but it's rumored west coast firms can pay less because they think the quality of life (i.e. weather) is better. I'm guessing this isn't true for VC firms but for mutual fund companies it seems possible.
This one's obvious- market hours on the West Coast are three hours earlier, which means you have to wake up three hours earlier and go to sleep three hours earlier. Even if you're a morning person, this schedule makes it difficult to go out on weeknights. Many people stay in on weeknights and are forced to become weekend warriors.
It's definitely seems true the work atmosphere is more laid back in the west. Of the three firms I've worked at, none have required wearing suits/ties. People that have worked on both coasts have remarked that it seems more cutthroat in the east. There are exceptions however- I hear one of the larger Southern California investment managers is particularly brutal.