Culture at various trading desks

Brady4MVP's picture
Rank: Neanderthal | 3,189

Each trading desk seems to have its own culture. For example, cash equities are known to be more laid-back, and among firms, Morgan Stanley has a reputation for being "fratty" while goldman and Credit Suisse traders lean towards the more cerebral side.

It will be interesting to hear people's impressions of the various bulge bracket trading desks, with respect to the culture and overall ambience.

Comments (21)

Jun 8, 2010

Revsly, get in here and tell him how laidback the Credit Suisse desks are and that you're not a bunch of nerds channeling all you're cerebral power 24/7.

I can tell you that even though individual firms have their "own culture", individual desks, regardless of the firm, tend to attract a certain "type" of person and that culture manifests itself.

For example, Cash Equities tend to attract the more "fratty" traders so you'll see some ex-varsity athletes, etc. on many of these delta one desks. There isn't much brain power required to trade cash equities in blocks so you wouldn't expect these guys to be highly "cerebral".

Also because cash equity markets are very fast and trades are very short term, these desks tend to seem more "hectic", and so, a lot more yelling, screaming, slamming of phones and keyboards

Jun 8, 2010

It's so hard to generalize... it can be so specific. As you noted, it depends on firm, division and even specific product area. For example, Cash Rates is often different than Swaps which is different than Swaptions... all within the same firm.

Jun 8, 2010

Yeah, that's a good point. In general you could say the following:

Fixed Income Exotic Derivatives desks at Credit Suisse would have a culture that is more similar to the Exotic Derivatives at Morgan Stanley, than it is to the Cash Equities desk right there at CS.

But yes, Morgan Stanley is somewhat jock-ish if you want to run the risk of generalizing

Jun 8, 2010

They both just made the point for me.

So next time you here that GS/CS traders are a bunch of brainy traders, remember that there is only so much brain that can go into some product areas and as a result, the "culture" will vary by product desk perhaps more than it varies by individual firms.

Jun 9, 2010

I think it depends more on the bank than the desk to be honest.

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Jun 9, 2010

Like I said earlier, desk cultures are mostly influenced by the MDs on the desk. Obviously, the more quantitative desks (i.e. exotics) attract a different type of individual to the cash desks but you seem to be underestimating the impact of "exceptions everywhere". I'd rephrase that and say there are no "generalisations ANYWHERE". There's no organised way to think about it. Do a S&T internship and go experience the different desk cultures yourself. Also note that there's no one fits all description of a desk culture so one can't define the culture on Rates/Investment Grade as you tried to above. Example: I've rotated on EM desks in three BBs. In one, there were a lot of indian guys with a lot of banter flow. Very smart guys. In another, the desk had a more cerebral feel to it. The best trader was called the Professor, and there were several women on the desk (one of the MDs was a woman who I guess was more liberal about hiring women on the desk). On the third, there were a mixture of all sorts.

My point is MDs tend to hire people like them, and people usually adjust their behaviours to fit whatever desk culture they see there, which just reinforces the culture to any newcomers.The biggest influence on the culture on a Trading desk will always be the MDs on the desk; more so than whatever the "firm" culture is. The only generalisations I can make are that
1. Cash Equities desks tend to have the most "fratty" types
2. Exotics and Structuring desks tend to attract a lot of French people (at least in London anyway)

Jun 10, 2010

Haha, French people. That kills me!

Jun 10, 2010

"how does each desk "think" about the difference between Sales, Structuring, Strategy and Trading (as ROLES/functions)?"

It's very simple. Trading provides the bonus pool and the other three question the manner in which it's provided.

Oh and desk culture dominates, though MS fixed income exotics and CS fixed income exotics are surprisingly different. Especially since at CS it's essentially only one guy nowadays.

Jun 10, 2010
Jimbo:

"how does each desk "think" about the difference between Sales, Structuring, Strategy and Trading (as ROLES/functions)?"

It's very simple. Trading provides the bonus pool and the other three question the manner in which it's provided.

Oh and desk culture dominates, though MS fixed income exotics and CS fixed income exotics are surprisingly different. Especially since at CS it's essentially only one guy nowadays.

LOL

Jun 10, 2010
Jimbo:

"how does each desk "think" about the difference between Sales, Structuring, Strategy and Trading (as ROLES/functions)?"

It's very simple. Trading provides the bonus pool and the other three question the manner in which it's provided.

Oh and desk culture dominates, though MS fixed income exotics and CS fixed income exotics are surprisingly different. Especially since at CS it's essentially only one guy nowadays.

what's the difference between MS and CS fixed income exotics?

Jun 10, 2010

I think you'd need Jimbo to be a little more specific, Fixed Income Exotics is a fairly broad term. You've got FX Exotics, Rates Exotics, Credit Exotics.

Lol as for the quip about Sales/Structuring/Strategy questioning the bonus pool, it's pretty accurate.
However, any trader worth his salt knows the following truths:

1) Traders are able to generate robust PnL for the desk in part because of the strong "sales" force they have infront of them bringing flow from their massive client base.

2) PnL from the margins of vanilla products that most sales desks push is very thin and thus, "structuring" comes up with attractive ways to structure more exotic products that are able to conceal much larger PnLs for the desk

....
...i can't really defend strategy on the desk lol, they're kind of like the middle child:

Trader=The Bully Child who tries to nickel and dime their way out of chores around the house... passing it off to their siblings...and always seems to get the biggest share of dessert at the dinner table

Structurer=the smart ass kid who always tries to find deeper meaning in shit that is probably better left shallow...

Sales=the kid who wont shut up.. talks for hours about their day at school... but for some reason.. he's pretty popular...

Strategy=the kid who mutters to himself in the corner.. devising ways to do shit that he never follows through on

Of course I'm being facetious here, but anyone who's been on the desk gets the idea lol

Jun 10, 2010

Haha, some good posts in this thread. Jimbo was definitely talking about Rates Exotics btw.

Jun 10, 2010

customer base, desire to be in the business, size of the team, background of the team, you name it. CS just isn't a great example for fi exotics. MS and GS are more similar.

Jun 10, 2010
Jimbo:

customer base, desire to be in the business, size of the team, background of the team, you name it. CS just isn't a great example for fi exotics. MS and GS are more similar.

This one

Jun 10, 2010

and yes this is all for rates, don't know about the others.

Jun 10, 2010

"1) Traders are able to generate robust PnL for the desk in part because of the strong "sales" force they have infront of them bringing flow from their massive client base. "

Depends on the desks. What's the benefit for structured desks which deal with hedge funds trying to pick them off all day?

Jun 10, 2010

Rates & FX Exotics are very different in that regard Jimbo.

Jun 10, 2010
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