Breaking Into Trading's Insular World

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Whether acting as a floor trader handling options, or working the desk on the retail side for an investment firm, a trader's job certainly has allure. However, for women and people of color, breaking into this insular world can be particularly difficult.

Many of the companies that have floor traders or market makers on the New York or American Stock Exchange are smaller firms, whose recruiting isn't a large-scale, well-publicized effort. Says Drew Mandler, managing director of capital markets for Smith Hanley Associates, an executive search firm: "Floor trading is a specialty business, with small firms that have been family-run for generations." The retail side of the business offers a bit more opportunity, because the large banks and investment firms - who tend to advertise available positions - dominate.

One Trader's Path

Richard Bansa, who emigrated from Ghana in 1992, worked his way up the corporate ladder, serving in a variety of finance positions in both the corporate and banking worlds before landing his current job as a retail trader for RBC Dain Rauscher in Minneapolis. "I worked with Bank One in Chicago in operations, and then went on to become a portfolio manager," he says. While he also worked as a financial analyst for Pillsbury before joining RBC, he says it was the portfolio manager's job that "eventually positioned me to get to the trading side."

Once inside RBC, Bansa's networking skills helped him learn about an open position in trading. "People skills are among the most essential in my field, whether you're networking for a position or dealing with customers," he believes. "Of course, you have to know the financial markets and have the essential business abilities. But communications skills are crucial."

For minorities, women or anyone else seeking to distinguish themselves in trading, Bansa believes it helps to bring additional abilities to the table. For example, his knowledge of Microsoft's Visual Basic and Excel gave him the skills to build a software program used by RBC brokers to select preferred stocks. "Trading is a difficult business to be in," Bansa says. "It's all about P&L. Whatever extra thing or talent that you have to offer can certainly help."

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