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Thursday, August 03, 2006

Life as a Bond Trader

The irritating sound of my alarm going off happens at 5:00 am each morning. The sky is still dark and the faint sound of distant thunder makes staying in bed incredibly tempting. But, I persevere through the sleepy haze and swing my legs over and head for the bathroom. A hot shower is my only consolation as I prepare for the day ahead.

I read on the train into the City. Up to 3 books a week depending on how challenging they are. Anything works: classics, chick-lit, even the occasional venture into non-fiction to make me feel intellectual. Me and my library card are best friends, and for purchasing cheap books was an exciting discovery. It's a 45 minute ride in, too short for my taste most of the time, especially if the novel is engaging.

The office is usually quiet at 6:45 am, when all the traders and underwriters are arriving for the day. We have a decent view from our trading floor of the downtown landscape, enough to see if it's gorgeous outside while we're trapped, thousands of feet in the air, playing with numbers and attempting to make a dent in the financial markets to justify our existence.

The highlight of my morning is the thrice-weekly trip to Starbucks, for my current drink choice of a decaf grande non-fat caramel macchiato. Say THAT five times fast. And yes, I am high maintenance about my coffee drinks. Say what you will, it's a relatively cheap thing that makes me VERY happy. All is right with the world when I know my Starbucks card has a hefty balance lurking on it.

Our desks are crowded together, one huge, open room with long tables seating 10 people, crammed together about 2 & 1/2 feet a part. Everyone has a minimum of three flat-screen computer panels, most people have four to six screens towering over their small desks. Our phones are these gargantuan black boxes with glowing blue screens, forty lines (no joke!), and a seemingly infinite number of pages to program with speed dials. All forty phone lines CAN ring at once, and combined with the shouting and screaming in the room when things get busy, it's easy to get sweaty with stress. If you've seen Boiler Room then you have a sense of what I'm talking about.

The busiest time in the bond business is almost always Tuesday-Thursday from 8:00 am-12:30 pm EST, when most new bond issues are pricing in the market. It all seems to happen in waves, oddly enough, and once the storm passes you're left feeling like you've been hit by a grimy semi truck. Monday is quiet, as you prepare to bid on bond issues and market your offerings to the Street, and Friday is clean-up day where you take care of all the crap that has built up during the week.

Sounds fascinating, doesn't it? Yeah, I thought so. When people ask me what I do and I answer, "I'm a municipal bond underwriter at a Top 10 Broker Dealer", their eyes glaze over and promptly roll to the back of their head out of sheer boredom.

Lunch is always eaten in hurried gulps at your desk. If you're lucky, you had 10 minutes to run downstairs and grab a salad, otherwise you're stuck foraging in the vending machines for a quick sugar fix.

Things begin to wind down at 4pm EST and you finally have a moment to take a deep breath and look around you, perhaps take a much needed bathroom break. The good thing about starting so early is that it is quite acceptable to be on the 4:14 pm train home. Wild horses couldn't prevent me from it on most days. You leave for the day hoping that you don't own too much and that market opens in your favor the next day. It's a strange sort of sensation, knowing that millions of dollars are at risk each night because of decisions you've made that day. Most people in this business become accustomed to that ongoing pressure, or else they don't last long.

A small taste of my day, in case you cared.


Anonymous said... honestly make it sound as if it's not that great. Do honestly experience people rolling their eyes back in their head when you would tell them that you were an underwriter at a top 10 broker dealer? How could being part of one of the fastest, most intense parts of the machine that drives global economy be dull....I am still trying to figure out how to get a shot at this world. I have an MBA in finance from a top school and I am stuck working twice the hours of a trader, with less time for lunch and a fraction of the have a chance at that thrill, stress and action would be fulfilling my every dream!

Thanks for the quik insight.

Mary Liu said...

Hi Jen,

I immediately assumed the writer was male when I started reading this post! I typed in "bond trader life" into Google Search and your blog is the very first link on the top of the page.

I'm an aspiring Sales/Trader in the bond markets, rising senior at one of the Top 3 colleges in the United States, and your life story as a female trader and mother could not be more encouraging.

You were basically a muni bonds trader, successful from the sound of it, and then managed to have a successful family as well from the looks of your blog. I'm quite awed--sometimes it feels that a successful career is mutually exclusive with being a successful mother, or at least there's a strict piecemeal trade-off.

Anyway, just felt obliged to leave a comment, to say that you've helped along an ambitious student conflicted about being so career-oriented in her early twenties (about to turn 22).

Thank you! Any insights, advice, suggestions in response to this comment would be taken with great appreciation.

All the best,