Having worked on both sides of the trading fence, Neil shares his personal story from how he entered the world of trading 30 years ago to where he is now, giving us an insight on his interests outside of his world of buy-side trading.
How did you get to where you are now?
"Life in the City was not my first choice, I had been offered a job presenting a music television program which would have suited my rock star dreams. My parents however suggested that if I took that route I would also need to find somewhere else to live. Luckily I also had an offer from UBS Phillips & Drew on what was effectively an apprenticeship, which may have been the more boring choice but was the one I took. It turns out that it was far from dull. It was just after the Black Monday crash of 1987 and many of my friends questioned if I was making a wise choice. My opinion was that I was getting in at the bottom and there could not be a better time.
I started in the new issues department which was buzzing from the sales of several national institutions, which appeared at the time to be a fool proof way to make money fast. After that I spent the next 2 years in various back office departments before being offered a role as desk assistant on the European research sales desk, my first big break. On top of the usual coffee/dry cleaning/faxing chores I was able to back up salespeople while they were away and I picked up some of their lesser clients who they did not have time to cover fully. At the end of six years at UBS I was covering the Far East clients who wanted European research.
"There is always something new to learn in trading and almost always a better way to trade than you have done previously. "
I was then offered a job at Fidelity in Boston, and had always wanted to live in America, so I jumped at the chance. It ended up being a steep learning curve as I had to pass all the US qualifications too. I was trading for all the East coast and Midwest clients of the firm and this was when I got my first taste of program trading. It was very early days for program trading and the pre and post trade analytics were all homemade and very basic, but I knew it was where I wanted to be.
While in Boston, I was approached by ITG who were thinking of expanding internationally. At the time they had pioneered a crossing network, a front end terminal and were early algorithm leaders. I joined their international team and moved back to London when they opened the office there. It was a team of five when we started and we introduced dark pools to Europe, something that is now taken for granted. Once POSIT had taken off in Europe, I set about building a program trading team to compliment the crossing network.
After 10 years at ITG, I jumped ship to Bear Stearns to run their PT sales team. It was quite a change from a start-up office to a mega bank. Sitting at the top of the Canary Wharf tower in high winds was an interesting experience. As the subprime meltdown started, I moved to Sanford Bernstein where I sold algos as well as PT services. The amalgamation of dark pools access was very popular at that time and I continued to sell that at Execution for the next few years.
When the chance to switch to the buy side came along, I thought it was perfect timing as the buy side trading desks were adopting a lot of the skills and tools that had previously been a preserve of the sell side. Again it was a steep learning curve as I had to get acquainted to how things are done differently on the buy side. Ardevora has quite a different approach to stock picking, taking the results of academic research from cognitive psychology, on errors and biases, and applying them to financial markets, which I have found fascinating. It has also been a return to being part of a small team growing a business which I must admit I much prefer over working in a huge corporation. It is a very small trading team but that way you know each other’s strengths and skills better.
"As much of a fan of technological advance I am, I still believe that this is a people led business."
Since moving to the buy side there has been a regulatory revolution with MiFID II. I am always keen to keep up to date with market structure changes and engage in new ways of trading. There is always something new to learn in trading and almost always a better way to trade than you have done previously. The market is a completely different animal to the one I joined 30 years ago and it has been a challenge to try and stay close to the cutting edge but that is the draw for me."
What do you enjoy most about your role and are there any highlights?
“The thing I love most about the industry is the vast array of interesting people I have met, many of whom I consider role models and mentors. I am fortunate enough to count many of these as friends, which makes my job feel less like work. The support and guidance that I get from my peers is priceless. As much of a fan of technological advance I am, I still believe that this is a people led business."
What are your top 3 tips to a successful buy-side career in trading?
Maintain your honesty and integrity. Our industry was built on the old adage ’My word is my bond’. Admit your mistakes, don’t hide them. Hidden mistakes are more likely to be repeated. Instead learn from them. Always do the right thing.
Keep abreast of new technology, venues and market participants. There is always something new to learn. Embrace technology at work like you would with a new phone, it is there to help you rather than displace you.
Network. There are always people who know more than you. Find them and learn from them. Alpha Trader Forum is a great place for this.
Do you have any personal interests outside of work to help counteract the potential stress associated with being Head Trader?
"Outside of work I am a keen lover of live music and always have a stack of tickets on the sideboard to look forward to. On some Sunday afternoons you may even find me rehearsing with my band from my teens, but I’d bring your earplugs, we are not as good as we used to be! I also love running, skiing, scuba diving and motor biking trips. Marathons and skydiving are ex hobbies now. When I am not seeking adrenalin thrills I get a lot of satisfaction from gardening, which is a bit more therapeutic and would have been career choice number 2!"