Letter from London: Learning About Finance - Sent Back To School
Alright. Alright. I admit it. I've been guilty of something known as 'marital tune-out' for all the years I've been married to a banker.
For those of you who don't know the phenomenon, it's a simple mechanism used by wives (and husbands) whenever a topic that you don't want to discuss comes up. Whenever my dear one started to wax lyrical about the joys of finance, I'd go onto autopilot and nod wisely, interspersing his comments with the odd 'Yes, dear'.
But those wretched Fates decided last week that it was time for my comeuppance: the powers-that-be at eFinancialCareers.com decided to send me back to the classroom - to an all-day seminar called Careers In Financial Markets. The very sound reasoning behind doing so was that it's important that we who write about financial careers understand the intricacies of your universe.
The seminar is designed so that those of us new to finance, or wanting to gain an overview of the different strands which make up the markets, can gain an insight into this complex world. I signed up with some trepidation (the phrase 'old dogs and new tricks' niggling away at me, especially as the day culminated in a test on what we were supposed to have learned).
So it was that twenty or so of us trundled up to the City of London to be drilled in all the component parts of matters financial, with lunch thrown in to keep us keen.
By the end of the morning my brains had turned to Pot Noodle. We were awash with acronyms - FTSEs and NASDAQs and SEATS and DAXs, just for starters. Adding order driven and quote driven thingummies just made matters worse. The Marital Tune-Out Mechanism (MTOM) had been all too securely hard-wired into my brain, despite the lecturer being lucid and funny and eminently clued-up.
My bright and receptive co-learners didn't seem to be having any difficulty amassing the information, so I redoubled my efforts to look and listen - hard - so as not to shame the family name come the test. Every time my glazing-over tendency surfaced, I forced myself to tango the little grey cells a bit more energetically.
As an introduction to the financial world, it covered the lot, so all those years of the MTOM had to be reversed in one short day.
The afternoon session was every bit as info-packed as the morning - different types of derivatives were covered (while I gamely tried to keep up) and the various roles that financial professionals fill, and the skill sets needed for those roles.
The day generated in me a healthy respect for those of you who work in the City, Wall Street and every other financial centre. It's a complicated, fascinating and challenging world that you inhabit, and left me in awe of anyone who can do it. I certainly couldn't, although I'm glad I now have a better grasp of what you do.
It will certainly help when those of you who get in touch with me describe your roles - I didn't understand the difference between Commodity Trading and Global Custody before, or what Risk Management was, or pretty much anything beyond the fundamentals of equity research. So although I've only learned the basic outline of what it is each sector does, it has given me a clearer insight into your work habitats.
(If any of you are kind enough to help me get a grip on calls and puts, shorts and longs and spots and forwards and/or how the whole derivative thing functions, I'll be eternally in your debt!).
Although there was a huge amount of information to ingest during the day, we enjoyed it very much. The looming test did cause a few qualms among us, nobody wanting to be the dunce of the class.
Came the hour, the test was 20 questions and, Oh Hooray! - multiple choice. Even so, I found myself crossing out answers and taking wild guesses where the memory chip in my brain failed to kick in. Most of the others finished before me, and I thought they looked far more confident than I felt.
The answers were read out, to groans and whoops from us all.
But you know what?
I managed a creditable pass...Bring on the bubbly!
I proudly announced same to my other half on my return. You know what he replied?