A trader buys and sells securities, which include currencies, stocks, bonds, and options, to make a profit. The worth of these securities are derived from the value of an underlying asset-and commodities (oil, gold, cocoa, coffee, sugar, etc.). Traders are employed by hedge funds (partnerships that invest in stocks, futures, options, and currencies), the fifteen or twenty largest banks in the United States and Europe, and large companies. Primary markets are located in New York, London, Singapore, and Tokyo. A company trades to “hedge” its exposure, much like a gambler “hedges” bets. For example, Microsoft sells products in Europe, where the Euro is the common currency. Today, the value of one Euro may be equal to $1.00, but in six months that value could be $1.15, meaning the value on the books is worth more when converted back into dollars. The company, therefore, has to offset its foreign exchange exposure. While all markets are cyclical, trading currency is generally the most fast-paced, and the currency trader’s days are almost always frantic. “I’m a market-maker, I make prices. I’m constantly looking at screens on which the numbers are always changing,” says one trader. “At the same time, I have to listen to six brokers shouting different prices all at the same time. I have to listen to what my colleagues are doing and what the spot desk is doing in the back. I have to listen to marketers calling me for prices for their clients. Over time, you learn how to deal with mayhem.” A trader’s day starts at 7:30 a.m. and ends at 5:30 p.m., and the work is creative as well as routine. “You go through the same motions and your mind is set to work in the same way, but you have to be creative with ideas in order to make money. You need discipline, which is related to routine, and you must be able to make quick decisions, think fast on your feet, and be a risk-taker. Traders are disciplined and creative gamblers at heart. There’s no way you can be calm in this job. Once in a while, I break a phone or a computer. I don’t know anybody who is polite and calm during the day.” Trading demands a particular temperament and an aggressive, type-A personality. Though culturally diverse, the industry is still very much an old-boys’ club comprised of nearly 90 percent men. “There’s a definite culture and attitude among traders of spending and splurging and carousing with women, and you are expected to take part.”
An assistant or junior trader helps traders with routine work such as recording trades or managing the process of “getting the trade to the books” by following SEC compliance rules. However, an assistant won’t advance very quickly; therefore attending business school while armed with a background in finance and math is essential. An MBA can earn a trader a lot more responsibility. There is tremendous competition for jobs, and getting into a top investment bank is difficult. While a particular pedigree isn’t important, attending an Ivy League school is advantageous.
Sales and marketing is the flip-side of trading-a company needs a contact in a bank to call to make a price for the company in order to trade. This role is fulfilled by marketers or sales people, who are called constantly by clients for their ideas about trading.