25 July, 2018

My Week At VCMT: Expectations VS Realities of Being A Trader

Before taking her place at Durham University to read Economics, Rose Grimshaw joined VCMT for an Insight Week to discover what it takes to be a trader.

I am currently on a gap year, about to take up a place at Durham University to read Economics. I grew up in Manchester and don't have family contacts in the City. However, it has always been my ambition to have a career in the financial sector and I moved to London hoping to obtain experience. After working with the management team of a leading sports equipment manufacturer, I was given an introduction to VCMT, who were recommended to me as being cutting edge commodity traders. After submitting an application and having a coffee shop interview, I was offered an Insight Week – a perfect opportunity!

Films like 'Trading Places' establish an expectation that successful commodity trading is a combination of mosh pit dominance and upwardly mobile power dressing. I knew it was unlikely to be quite like that at VCMT but took spare trainers and my brother's rugby shoulder pads, just in case the trading pit was really a thing.

VCMT's offices turned out to be understated and hip, more Silicon Valley than old square mile. Styling cues were contemporary, including a graffiti art commission in the Tech Room. It is a 2016 start-up and even the senior staff were younger than I expected, without much emphasis on dress code or hierarchy. The team had really diverse backgrounds and life experience. What they had in common was an absolute commitment to professional excellence and a preparedness to 'think different' on trading.

My mentor, Suren, was great; he organised my schedule so that I constantly had the opportunity to learn and talked me through the process. What struck me throughout my stay was how supportive everyone was towards me.

I particularly enjoyed being on the floor during the Windows (periods where the physical and paper market converge and there is high liquidity). If there was an indication that the price level of a product would change, there was lots of discussion as to how best to take an optimal position. The strategy and tactics were played out in real time; the build-up of anticipation and adrenaline was palpable. I was incredibly impressed at the traders' composure under immense pressure.

There are certainly high expectations of performance at VCMT and it is not an environment for the faint hearted. I left at the end of each day feeling as drained as if it had been a major sports event.

A personal favourite activity for me was mock pit trading, because although the traders outmanoeuvred me, being thrown in at the deep end and competing with them was immensely fun. Spending up to 12 hours a day together in a high tempo environment makes it essential for the traders to have excellent interpersonal skills, good humour and resilience. I had feared there might be an appalling initiation rite for an intern but the worst of it was side-betting on whether I'd finish a bucket of pretty tasty chicken nuggets.

The insight week at VCMT has been the highlight of my gap year. I would recommend it to anybody who is seriously considering the world of finance and trading. Not only do I have a much greater understanding of what happens in commodity trading and what it takes to be a successful trader but the experience has definitely made me want to come back to it once I have completed my degree.