How did you make the decision to work in trading?
I did a work placement at McLaren Formula 1 during university and worked there for three months after graduating. I thought this would fit the fast-paced dynamic work environment I wanted, but the work involved optimising a very small part of a car each day. I wanted to do something more varied so I decided to pursue trading. I had always been interested in trading as it’s very entrepreneurial and combines technology, maths and macroeconomics.
What made you stand out in the application process?
The interview team at Optiver liked the way I thought about problems when answering questions. I had strong numerical and analytical skills from my degree, combined with a passion for learning from every mistake I make. I was also able to demonstrate my ability to think rationally and quickly under pressure.
Optiver looks for a skillset rather than previous trading experience as we can teach the specifics of how to trade. The graduate scheme includes a two month training programme during which you’ll do simulated trading and learn about the systems and models we use.
Tell us about your job role.
In the five years since I joined Optiver I’ve had exposure to different types of trading, financial products and markets. Currently I lead a team of six other traders focusing on market making options on the S&P 500 (the US stock index). Market making is the buying and selling of financial products or assets. Around 60 per cent of my time is spent on day-to-day trading and 40 per cent is working with developers and researchers to adapt our models and systems to the specific problems and opportunities we find in the US markets, for instance building Excel sheets or Python scripts to better display the data needed for trading decisions.
Why Amsterdam as a work location?
I had always been open to working abroad after university; I wasn’t particularly set on Amsterdam but it turned out to be a great place to choose to live and work. It’s big enough to have everything you need but not so big that you have to spend hours travelling across it. My friends in London spend 45 minutes on the crowded tube every morning but I have a pleasant seven minute cycle through the park to work! The office is located in the financial district of Amsterdam, very close to the airport so I often fly back to the UK for the weekend to catch up with friends and family – I never feel that I’m missing out on anything by living here.
How’s your work/life balance?
Traders’ hours are primarily linked to the markets that they trade, which for the European markets are 9.00 am to 5.30 pm. I generally arrive around 45 minutes before the markets open and leave a short while after they close. I typically choose to stay later a couple of evenings a week to focus on more project-based work. There usually aren’t any hard deadlines so it is rare that I unexpectedly find I have to stay late at short notice, and there isn’t any weekend work as all of the markets are closed.
Have there been any particular career highlights?
The most memorable days are those when there are big world events such as an election. We see the impact of these events as they happen. On the day after the Brexit referendum, for example, we all came in super early to prepare before the markets opened. Everyone was helping each other out, discussing what they should do in the various products they traded. During the day I didn’t really have time to leave my desk because I was constantly trading, but our team had prepared well and knew how best to respond to each new piece of information coming out. Days like this – when the markets are constantly moving, dynamic and anything can happen – are tiring but at the end of the day I leave with a real sense of achievement.
What changes do you think we’ll see in the trading profession in the future?
I’m very impressed with how much has changed in the last five years. Programming skills and the ability to analyse data have become, and will continue to become, more important for traders. In the future I think there’ll be less manual trading (making phone calls or actively clicking to buy or sell a stock or option) and more emphasis on automation (for example, pre-loading a system with the prices and what trade it should buy or sell in different scenarios). Electronic trading on screens was only introduced around 15 years ago, so things are still changing very rapidly in that area.
What advice would you offer to students choosing their career?
If you are looking to go into trading, don’t limit yourself to investment banks. Investigate market making companies to find out whether they are more suited to you. The regulations placed on banks after the financial crash have limited the trading they can do, whereas market making companies trade using their own money (known as proprietary trading), meaning there are more opportunities for growth and innovation. There are no clients and there is less of a fixed hierarchy so you can progress quickly if you perform well – you really do get out what you put in.