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New data suggests that women make better traders than men on every measure imaginable. So, why aren't there more of them?

New figures show women make better traders than men on every metric imaginable

There are not a lot of women on the trading floors of investment banks. As our research has shown in the past, women constitute around 15% of traders in investment banks, and that proportion seems to be falling. The situation is even worse at major hedge funds. At Brevan Howard, just 6% of registered employees in London are women. At BlueCrest Capital Management, around 7% are.

That's a shame. New research by Financial Skills, a trading profiling company founded by a group of ex-traders from Merrill Lynch suggests that women make far better traders than men.

"We found that men take more risk than women," says Financial Skills COO David Hesketh. "That would be fine if they also made more money - but they don't."

Financial Skills runs real time trading simulation software. Last summer, 326 interns in investment banks traded on its system. Their results were combined with those from around 400 previous trading juniors. The junior traders lost money - Hesketh says this is standard. But the results showed that female traders lost less money than men. They also showed that men were far more likely to transgress specified trading limits.

Total P&L 2

"We told the traders participating in the simulation that they had to follow specific rules," says Hesketh. "They were only allowed to trade first thing in the morning, for an hour at lunch, or after 5pm. Outside those times we asked them neither to place trades nor look up prices. We did not physically prevent them from breaking the rules but told them there was a certainty that we would find out if they did."

Although juniors said they had no intention of breaking the rules, Hesketh says it was inevitable they would. "In our experience, everyone breaks the rules. It's just a question of how often."  What was notable, however, was that male traders broke the rules 2.5 times as much as women. "That's a huge statistical deviation," Hesketh says.

Forbidden actions

(Forbidden actions=placing data requests and trades in prohibited time periods.)

Nor was this all. Despite being less profitable than women, male traders placed a higher volume of trades (shown in 'trade slices') than women - thereby generating higher brokerage fees and settlement costs for banks. They were also significantly worse at going short than women were - suggesting that hedge funds with equity/long short strategies are foolish not to have more females on their desks.

Short trades

“Interestingly,the women also traded fewer times than the men.  In a world where every cost matters, reducing a bank’s brokerage costs would be a helpful contribution,” says Hesketh. "The data suggests that if you choose to employ men over women, you will make less money using more capital, you will have higher transaction costs and you will need a more robust risk and compliance team," says Hesketh.

Only a handful of high profile traders are women. Leda Braga, formerly of BlueCrest is one. Angelie Moledina at Moore Capital is another. Nehal Chopra's Ratan Capital Management has generated returns averaging 20% a year for the past five years.

Hesketh predicts that his research will change banks' approach to attracting women to the trading floor. "A couple of the banks we worked with over the summer asked us to present our findings to their steering committees," he says. "In future, banks won't be ticking a diversity box because it's politically correct, but because by doing so they will create a business that's more profitable and less risky."

Recruitment firm Alexander Mann is already presenting Hesketh's research to its clients. Jo-Ann Feely, global client partner for investment banking, says the findings are the missing component in the diversity debate. "Previous industry research has focused on the moral imperatives underpinning workforce diversity, and there has been less of a focus on the ROI arguments.  This research will hopefully prove that a more diverse workforce can lead to better business results, lower risk and a more productive workforce."






AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor
  • Z
    26 September 2017

    "This is a very sexist comment. Have you not considered that MEN only join the industry if they really feel they have an edge and interest in the subject?"

    I think you're the sexist one, the comment is simply trying to explain an unanswered question. If women are so good at trading, why are there so few women traders? The answer could be that the average women is less interested in trading than the average man, and therefore needs to be better than average to actually take an interest in doing it. This would mean that if you test the average female trader, they will be better than the average male trader because they have gone through a more rigorous selection process than the average male, who might take up trading in spite of his not being exceptional at it.

  • an
    4 June 2016

    Weird. Is this a byproduct of culture? How would you go about bringing the average junior male up to parity with junior females?

  • to
    15 March 2015

    Typical misinterpretation of data: Could it be that women only join the industry if they really feel they have an edge and interest in the subject?

    This is a very sexist comment. Have you not considered that MEN only join the industry if they really feel they have an edge and interest in the subject?

    My previous post seems to have got lost somewhere.

  • an
    28 January 2015

    Typical misinterpretation of data: Could it be that women only join the industry if they really feel they have an edge and interest in the subject?

  • Em
    27 January 2015

    Very interesting article. According to Emolument data, only 5% of traders are women.

    Interestingly, women traders make more than men, especially when it comes to bonuses, which would corroborate the performance-related findings in this study: Women Directors make £331,000 salary + bonus, while Men Directors make £310,000, ie a £20k gap in favour of women..

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