Meet a trader at Credit Suisse

Credit Suisse equity derivatives trader Tom Holm chats to us about starting out in banking and living the high life in New York

Tell me about your role at Credit Suisse

I've worked on the trading desk since I first started here, which was about eighteen months ago. When a client comes in, we tell them about the market and discuss equity options with them. Currently the stocks I'm looking at are mainly consumer and retail names. A classic example of something I might do on any day is to work with a pension or insurance fund who wants to stay on top of the market and so needs us to provide protection and hedge any downside risk.

What are your responsibilities?

I'm responsible for a trading book that I share with one other colleague but when he's off, I have to run the whole thing by myself. My original partner moved into the sales department, and for a while I managed the book on my own. That was very challenging, but looking back it provided a great opportunity to learn.

I currently share a book with someone who's worked at Credit Suisse for about five years, so he's a bit more senior than me. It's great setup, as I'm learning every day.

What initially attracted you to trading?

I quickly learned that trading is very much about how you react to the information that is available to you - and there's a lot of probability involved in weighing up risk and reward. It's high-energy and can be very pressurised, but that's what I've come to love about it.

What was your training like?

It was a five week scheme that took place in New York - I'd say it's been one of the major perks of the job so far. We got to stay in nice corporate accommodation, and the training itself was classroom-based and very helpful. We worked hard, and we played hard - let's just say we made the most of being in the Big Apple!

What's the atmosphere like at Credit Suisse?

It's very relaxed here, and we're all good mates on the desk. It's nice because we do get to go for dinners and drinks - it's not like we just spend time in the office and then go our separate ways. I have lots of friends here, as we bonded a lot during training.

How regular are your working hours?

I arrive in the office at 6.30 - 7am, ready for the market opening at 8am. Being in trading means that you're pretty much tied to the market, and so you can expect much more regular hours than the investment bankers, who might be working non-stop on a project for weeks. I'm usually out of the office by six, but I eat my lunch at my desk and don't really get any breaks during the day as I'm constantly concentrating on my screens.

What's the hardest aspect of the job?

The intensity. You've got to be on the ball all the time, for 12 hours a day. Pricing is stressful because if you get it wrong, it could cost you a lot of money. Being in a situation where one error could cost a fortune takes a bit of getting used to, especially coming straight out of university. It's a shock to the system to say the least.

What is the biggest perk of the job?

I found uni work pretty dull, so it's nice to get up and do something I'm interested in, as it makes me work harder. It's also a huge lifestyle change from being at university. Now I can go out and do all the things I wanted to do when I was a student, but couldn't afford. I have a good work/life balance, with time to socialise in the evenings and at weekends.

What kind of person do you think fits in well to a trading environment?

It's quite varied actually. It ranges from the quiet, mathematical types who suit more technical roles, through to the people on the flow trading desk where I work, which is very fast-paced. The people here are generally loud and sociable. When you're working together 12 hours a day, it gets pretty intense, so you have to be able to have some fun.

The role doesn't involve dealing with clients that much, but having the right personality is still essential for getting hired and doing well. It's not all about making money - it's about getting on with people.

What advice would you give to students who want to get into investment banking?

The first thing you need to do is get a good grade in your degree - you should aim for at least a 2:1, as it's much more difficult to get an offer at a bank if you've got a 2:2. The next thing you need to think about is extra curricular activities. When I was at university, some friends and I pooled some money and invested in some stocks. We did it to demonstrate our interest in the market - which is really important if you want to go into trading.

Once you get through to interview stage, being prepared is the key. Build up a rapport with the interviewer if you want them to remember you, and be prepared for brain teasers and approximation questions such as: "How many petrol stations are there in the UK?" Mental arithmetic is a crucial part of trading, so you need to be on top of it and able to show them how quickly your mind works. Finally, you need to make sure you're up-to-date with what's going on in the market - if they ask you something like: "Why is the market down 20 per cent in the last month", you need to know.