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Brutally Honest Day in the Life of a Sell-Side Trader

Want to know what it’s really like to be a sell-side trader? The days are long and tiring, and the business is as relationship-driven as ever, perhaps more so. We asked a trader at a boutique firm to chronicle his work day, from waking up to shutting down. It doesn’t sound like he has the healthiest diet in the world.

5:30 a.m.: Wake up. Check Bloomberg Anywhere. Check Twitter. No one reads the Journal anymore.

6:30 a.m.: Get to work. Log in. Check Twitter again. TweetDeck will be scrolling all day next to my watch list. Twitter is just as important as a Bloomberg now, and a hell of a lot cheaper.

6:35 a.m.: Have a bowl of frosted Mini Wheats washed now with a quadruple espresso. Thank god for the new Nespresso machine.

7:15 a.m.: Try to stay awake during morning meeting. Pretend I’m interested in ideas being pitched. My clients don’t care. Their analysts are a lot smarter than mine. They will trade with me because they like me and trust me. The institutional equity may be on life support, but until it croaks it will remain relationship-driven.

8:00 a.m.: Call clients. Rush through our stock ideas so we can discuss what we really want to: fantasy football waiver ideas. A good sleeper is worth at least $100k shares.

9:00 a.m.: Empty the bladder for the last time until 4:00 p.m.

9:20 a.m.: Pray the phone rings or the IM dings.

9:30 a.m.: See 9:20 a.m.

9:35 a.m.: IM reads buy $100k XYZ vwap otd. I enter order into my OMS and it does the rest. I guess client has forgiven that dodgy Zach Sudfield is “sleeper of the year” call.

10:00 a.m.: Start thinking about lunch.

10:30 a.m.: See 10:00 a.m.

11:00 a.m.: I’ve used the last 30 minutes to build a consensus. We will send the intern to Shake Shack. Wasn’t easy. There’s a lot of different appetites around the room.

12:00 p.m.: Where the **** is the intern??

12:30 p.m.: See 12:00 p.m.


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1 p.m.: Intern finally returns with a dozen burgers and a few pounds of fries. Small order I know. Not as many bodies around here as there used to be.

1:05 p.m.: Ready to dig into a double Shack burger and the phone rings. Dammit. “Add another $100k to the XYZ.” Easy enough. Couple clicks in the OMS and that’s done.

2:00 p.m.: ZZZzzzzz

2:30 p.m.: Hit nespresso machine for 4 more.

3:00 p.m.: Is it 4 p.m. yet?

4:00 p.m.: IM my client: “bot $200k XYZ for 9.9999.” Pray he’ll give me $0.05 per share.

4:05 p.m.: Still waiting for confirmation from client. Doesn’t he know I’m a sell-side trader? I go to the bar at 4:02 p.m. It’s in my contract.

4:07 p.m.: He responds: “$0.03 thx.”

4:10 p.m.: Miller Time.

AUTHORBeecher Tuttle US Editor
  • na
    8 January 2015

    I left sell-side trading in 2004. The 4:02pm bar "meetings" had caught up with me. Even though it is ten+ years ago your story brings back memories. For what it is worth, the relationship building skills do seem to be transferable, even if the sell-side business is, as you say, on life support. The floor brokers used to talk about how the market could be up 200 points, and you could hear a pin drop down there because all the trading was electronic. This is, of course, progress, but it does lead to some of us getting nostalgic. Many of the comments are spot on. Yes, Traderdonny, there are many aspects of the job that a fifth grader could handle with ease. I agree with AliDesai that this is a no risk trader and merely executing. This was what I did, too, and it did seem a little foolish some days. You end up being a very expensive therapist and chaperone. You spend your days listening to clients yell about the vwap being off, and then your nights drinking with them as if you were old war buddies. It was a very strange life.

  • tr
    3 January 2015

    True apart from the magic of entering in OMS system... emerging markets don't have that, execution is all manual so you have to concentrate damn hard

  • sl
    13 September 2013

    It's a shame you can't make better use of your time but that will come in handy after the next wipeout of lazy thinkers. Peace.

  • Al
    13 September 2013

    Another quiet day in our small provincial town and therefore a story like this gets discussed by the usuall cohort at the Cock and Feathers. Charlie, the former global head of generalised punting at goldman, chortled quitely to himself, wiped the bear moustache off his face and started to tuck into his pie and chips. As a general rule we tend to wait until hunger pangs have been sated before launching into an indepth analysis. I venture an opinion that this so-called "trader" is nothing more than execution monley with zero risk limits. Why he needs to get to his desk at 6:30AM is beyond comprehension as he little in the way of any analytical skills. At this stage, someone mentioned Syria and the conversation got more heated. But that is for another forum.

  • tr
    13 September 2013

    my 5th grader could do this

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