Connection Terminated: My Experience as a Financial Ronin (5 min read)

‘Graveyards are full of indispensable people' - Charles De Gaulle

 

Ah, the IPC phone turret! What would a Wall Street salesperson do without one? Incoming calls, direct lines to clients, overhead speakers for trading – even caller ID. It was 2011 and I had just watched ten of my colleagues receive calls from HR terminating them in ‘Conference Room A’.

The trading room had been my home for almost two decades. I was part of the Old Guard, the experienced. I knew intuitively which traders were making money or whose furrowed brow revealed distress. I could look into offices and see why salespeople were complaining to managers, or who was in a conference room talking to head-hunters. I could even tell when a trader was on the line taking a berating from their other half.

So with all this expertise you might have thought I’d see what was coming when on that day in 2011 the phone rang for me as well. But I didn’t.

The Call ID said ‘Conference Room A’.

The only phrase I remember hearing from my manager as I sat down was, ‘Today is going to be your last day’. It was like an excommunication, a complete disconnection from the firm and family I loved. And I never healed.

Eight years later the same thing happened. I’d built a business for a second-tier player and was having a good sales year this time, but termination appeared once again over the phone line – this time through Bloomberg IB – a chat message requesting my presence in the conference room. Then I heard that phrase again, ‘Today is going to be your last day’.

Except everything mattered more now: my finances and station in life were more tenuous with older children and higher expenses. Was I a bad salesperson? Or just poor at playing politics? How could I be so dispensable? The questions revolved viciously in my head. What would I tell my family?

 

Life in the Wilderness

I am a student of persuasion and selling. I think that what makes a good a Wall Street salesperson is communication. And an education from an Ivy League university doesn’t always instil that. I used to have to assign my analysts fresh from Harvard, Yale, and Princeton a reading list so they could actually learn to communicate with real people. To make a sale you must bet on yourself: be phenomenal or be forgotten. You may know how to value a string of Bermudian options and how to calculate longhand the straddle price of swaption, but being able to communicate with a client who has a dozen other people peddling the same product takes a special skill.

But don’t mistake communication for friendship. When you are unemployed, old colleagues and friends quickly desert you. You become a Ronin. Oh, people will take your call but they never initiate. They never call you because they’re afraid they’ll become you.

Being in your forties and looking for work you learn several dirty truths about yourself and the job market.

Job boards and postings are overwhelmingly fake. There’s no algorithm out there looking for someone with twenty plus years of experience. And there are a lot of jobs posted simply to fulfil the legal requirement of advertising a position when they already have their candidate internally. Often you have to know someone who will vouch for you and be prepared to do some heavy lifting.

I did manage to get several interviews from some top tier US banks. Most of the people interviewing me had a decade less experience than me. It was a bit of a joke, really. But I could see their side of things. Who would want an older salesperson taking what is left of a shrinking bonus pool? Or wanting to manage the group just as they started making money? They didn’t want the competition.

Nothing stuck.

 

Rejoining the Workplace

It took a year of ploughing through savings to find two potentials.

The first was with a respectable money manager. My interviews there were done by professionals with over twenty-five years of experience who actually remember the Fed’s hiking cycle of 1994 (gasp!). There was a lot of laughing and reminiscing, and I walked out feeling invigorated and connected.

The other was a Fintech firm that treated me like a bad date. Weeks would go by without contact, then the phone would ring and I was in for an interview. None of our conversations were unprofessional. But there were also no laughs, no fun. And for me, a job without quips or joking teammates is a job to avoid.

In the end I was fortunate to receive offers from both companies. And it was with gratitude that I joined the world of the working once more. Many of my friends are still struggling.

 

The Lessons

All I’ve ever wanted to do is sell – to get that oxytocin high from building rapport and helping my clients. But I learnt some things from my time in the wilderness, from being twice unemployed in a world where the Financial Markets industry is in steep decline.

I take Eric Clapton’s words to heart: ‘Nobody knows you when you’re down and out’. That was true for me to an extent, and it’s a tough lesson to learn. But I also had some great people rally to my assistance and I will never be able to convey my gratitude. Learn to identify these people in your life – and appreciate them!

If you want some hard and fast tips they’re these: ask open ended questions, be curious about who you are selling to, find ways to tell stories – sell the symphony of what you’re proffering and not the individual notes. And take risks! You’ll either turn people off or you’ll build rapport and secure the job. The same holds for dealing with clients. Take a risk. Refuse the ordinary.

Of course, there’s no single hack to secure a new job or make your dreams come true. As former Navy SEAL Jocko Willink points out, you must run a whole campaign. It is an incessant fight against laziness and it requires hard work. It’s a grind. But great people take up that grind. They take chances, and they are rewarded with the best that life can bring them.

The Financial Ronin is a global macro maven. The Ronin has been around long enough to remember JGBs above 4pct and Italian BTPS at 12pct.  Rumor has it the Ronin once recommended Polish 2y swaps at 19pct netting a client 1200bp on a trade. The Ronin is schooled in Chuang Tzu, Musashi, Tesshu and the Stoics and can discuss their applications to sales strategy, persuasion and a better life.

(The commentary contained in the above article does not constitute an offer or a solicitation, or a recommendation to implement or liquidate an investment or to carry out any other transaction. It should not be used as a basis for any investment decision or other decision. Any investment decision should be based on appropriate professional advice specific to your needs.)

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