I often think that working on a trading floor is a bit like trench warfare.
Long periods of quiet and frustration, punctuated by occasional moments of sheer panic, desperation and fear. Of course, if you actually do a good trade all that is forgotten in an instant - rather like a mother who’s given birth for the first time. Success, however small, is a panacea for all ills.
But there’s one moment of existentialist angst that beats all others, and that’s when there’s a redundancy round going on and you are left on tenterhooks waiting for the phone call inviting you to come to the obligatory meeting in HR to discuss your severance. Only once you’ve sweated away the day and realised that you’ve made it through again, can you sit back and contemplate what it all means.
We all know that working in the markets is getting tougher. A diet of fierce but socially necessary regulation, greater capital controls, and historically low interest rates have led inexorably to far less volatility and trading volume. This affects the profitability for all the major firms, since there's not so much to aim at, and natural revenue streams just dry up, leaving a large cost base and a headache for shareholders. With remorseless logic, banks start to tighten their belts and people get laid off in their thousands.
When you see colleagues of many years getting the chop it’s never pleasant. There’s a sense of loss. Friendship, which is all too often about simple geography, often finds a fertile breeding ground among the lines of dealing desks and trading floors. After all, we're bunched together for at least 10 hours a day, and if you can’t make a few mates during all that time, there’s something wrong with you. For those of us left to man the shop, however, it’s business, or rather a distinct lack of it, as usual. Life is more frustrating, too, as there are far less highs from doing the day job, and it’s all got horribly competitive, as dealers scrap about after what business is still out there.
I guess there is a sense that the markets are getting leaner and meaner, and it probably needed to happen. You might even conclude that those who are all right for a few more years have managed to earn some small vote of confidence from their management. But day to day we financial folk don't think like that. Nowadays it’s even more a case of: 'You’re only as good as your last ticket'. So get used to the new normal - but remember, however bad it gets, it’s indoors work and there’s no heavy lifting!