By Standard Bank
1. What are global markets about? The Global Markets Division of Standard Bank has three primary functions, that is: research, trading and sales. Under these functions there are product variations such as equities, fixed income and commodities, money markets etc. The “global markets” refer to the various markets across the world where these products are traded
2. What is a trader and what do they trade? Are there different types of trading? A trader is someone responsible for pricing and transacting financial instruments for the bank. These instruments may be cash instruments (currencies, equities, bonds) or derivative instruments (forwards, swaps, options). They transact market instruments for two reasons, firstly as a result of customer activities, that is, acting as agents on behalf of the customer; or hedging customer transactions; secondly, for speculative trading on the bank’s account – as proprietary traders.
3. How did you become a trader? Have you always known that you want to be a trader? Well, I did not really choose to be a trader before joining the markets. I was interested in financial markets, foreign exchange and economics… there was also a natural curiosity as to what drives prices in markets. I was fortunate enough to be offered a graduate position within the Treasury department of a local bank and my interest really took off from there.
4. What are the qualifications needed? What did you study? Basically financial, quantitative or mathematical subjects should equip you for trading. That is economics, statistics, finance, maths, physics and engineering. I studied some finance subjects but ended up majoring in Economics and Statistics.
5. The hours of trading in a day and what it entails? – Typical trading hours are from 7 to 7:30 in the morning until 5 to 6 in the afternoon, which is when the local market closes. Some of the activities a trader will engage in during the day include
- Checking overnight news on global markets, local news and how various prices in the markets have changed since the previous day.
- Checking and confirming trading positions from the previous day to ascertain the current risk exposure, and to make sure the current positions reflect the trader’s view on prices.
- Speaking to other banks and brokers – sharing views on the direction the market will be taking, what economic events are coming up, prices have moved since the previous day’s trade etc. Inter-dealer brokers will also be consulted to see what bidding (buying) and offering (selling) interest is being shown in the market – also the current market prices that are quoted.
- Showing bid and offer prices back to the brokers to establish market levels and to show interest in various transactions.
- Actually trading on various prices and writing up these deals, booking them into trading systems. Pricing transactions for internal departments and sales staff.
- Running end of day closing procedures to value the book and generate profit and loss statements etc.
6. What are the routine and the non-routine operations or activities in trading? Every time a trader does a trade, he/she books the trade/transaction into the trading system. Prior to booking the trade, the trader will first write out a deal ticket, then capture the deal into the system, and this is done throughout the day as deals are done. At the end of the day, the trader closes the book, enters closing financial prices in the trading system and runs an end of day procedure. Then the dealer analyses the day’s trading activities in relation to prior existing transactions – that is an overall portfolio assessment of profit and risk. To undertake the analysis, the dealer will produce reports similar to the following:
- Market to market report;
- Profit and loss report; and
- Various risk reports.
This process confirms the profit and loss made for the day, as well as the ending risk positions in the portfolio. So there is a reasonable amount of set routine when it comes to actually doing a trade and the daily procedures. However market information, news and prices are always changing – as are the trader’s positions – so in this respect there is quite a bit of variability in what a trader experiences day to day.
7. How are you affected by the different time zones? We are not as affected by the different time zones, as we trade mainly Rand products, that is, anything denominated in the local currency, with the exception of the foreign exchange desk, where there would be an office in the various time zones that would pick up the trading activity through the global trading day.
8. The psychology behind most trading or the culture of a trading room at Standard Bank? Trading is an analytical game; however, it is not a game of complete information. We do not know the future, whether or not prices will move up or down. We form a view on what prices should do, by analysing research reports, news, economic data and releases etc. Most traders base their view on both fundamental (economic data) and technical (price data and graphs) analysis; however, people tend to have a natural liking for one or the other. For some people, the relevant information is to be found in the economic drivers, while others purely follow what the market price is doing. Both processes have their merits. As a trader, you need to react quickly to both fundamental and technical factors if you want to be successful.
9. In terms of financial responsibility – how is it determined as to who does what, what informs the amounts allocated for trading? It is difficult to give an exact level of financial responsibility for every trader – this will depend on seniority, product area, client or proprietary trading focus etc. International revenue benchmarks would probably be in the region of USD 5-15m of trading profits per trader per year. Traders are given budgets at the beginning of the year and are held accountable to achieve those results – there is day-to-day monitoring of performance.
10. What laws or ethics guide trading, – why do traders trade market volatility and how do politics come into play? There are rules and regulations that need to be abided by. These are put in place by a plethora of institutions, such as the Bond Exchange of South Africa (BESA), Johannesburg Securities Stock Exchange (JSE) and the Financial Services Board. Such institutions regulate trading activity in the different markets. There are also internal policies and procedures that regulate what traders can and can’t do. Individual ethics are also important – because the market consists of individuals transacting with each other in good faith, unethical behaviour will tend to result in that trader being excluded from the market to some extent – so you need to have a healthy sense of self-regulation to participate in the markets.
11. What are the threats to trading? In most cases the main threat to banks in the trading of financial markets is mainly the entrance of competitors in terms of other banks and also hedge funds – other banks compete for customer transactions and hedge funds may be quicker to spot and exploit proprietary trading opportunities. However these can sometimes be opportunities for banks too (for example hedge funds transact most of their business through banks and this produces revenue opportunities for banks that can attract their business).
12. Is trading still an old boy’s club? Not at all. Trading is a very egalitarian career. All you need is a computer and to have access to the market! Performance is almost solely measured on results, so as long as you produce the goods you will be judged to be successful.
13. How many women trade at Standard Bank? It is generally still a male dominated environment, with only about 10 percent of traders being women. However, this is not due to any overt discrimination or exclusionary practices (Standard Bank has a policy of promoting diversity and transformation in all their business units). Very broadly speaking, trading is an analytical pursuit while sales/structuring is more relationship driven – you tend to find that natural gender tendencies and characteristics will then determine the participation of males and females in each area. Of course there are always exceptions to the rule and I would say this is driven more by individual personalities than anything else.
14. What is the average age of traders at Standard Bank and when do most retire? And where to thereafter? Traders are normally relatively young – the age profile would vary from recent graduates to senior traders and managers in their mid to late 30’s. Most traders would tend to move out of a pure trading role by the time they reach their 40’s – likely career paths being to either move into fund management (asset managers), hedge fund trading or possibly a management career within a bank trading environment. Trading is a specialised career so most traders would tend to end up in one product area for many years, building up experience and skills as they go and being given more limits and capital to risk over time.
15. How do you strike a balance in your life? – Do you shut down when you get home or are you still caught up in the trade opportunity you might have missed? Reasonable work-life balance is important to avoid stress in your environment. This is because in trading, your emotional state can become very tied to the success or failure of your trading results. Engaging in physical activity, and having a healthy family life, is probably the best way to ensure you keep that balance.
16. Are traders born or made – why the snobbery culture? Is this phenomenon the same in South Africa, Standard Bank or throughout trading rooms across the world? I think the trading environment is misunderstood – hence the mystique. Good traders need a combination of innate qualities (competitiveness, need to achieve, attention to detail, good analytical ability, appetite and tolerance for risk) as well as learnt skills (economics, finance, technical knowledge of financial instruments, experience in trading the markets). I would say this is pretty universal and that traders across the world are reasonably similar types of people.
17. What are your highlights? The most rewarding moments probably come when you are handling large customer transactions – there is a feeling of fulfilment in helping a customer hedge their risk and remove uncertainty from their business environment, the revenue booked from the transaction itself and the skill / art in managing to on-sell or distribute the risk of the deal. If you get all three things right, there is a lot of satisfaction in a complex job well done.