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Foreign Exchange

FX comment: Washed up at 40 part II – life as an FX intern

Some things have not changed in the FX world. The days of smoking on the trading floor may be long gone, consigned to history along with Reuters pagers and Barings Bank but starting out as an FX trader does not seem to have gotten any easier.

Firstly, let’s start with the application process. Some banks receive over 100 applicants per position so standing out from the crowd has never been more difficult and the interviewers know it. Recent applicants have been blind-sided by questions like: 'How would you rate me out of five?' and 'What would you do if you transformed into a tiger?'. Having an interest in the financial world is no longer enough – successful interns will be bright, creative and funny, as well as being ready to live on less than four hours sleep in an attempt to score CV points.

It appears the substantial wages now offered to some interns can come as a poisoned chalice. While giving interns an insight into the potential of success in the fast-paced world of FX trading, it also means they are expected to provide a service worthy of their sizeable pay – and so begins the 60 hour working weeks, with no lunch breaks or weekends, all at the ripe old age of 20.

Misbehaviour on the trading floor is simply not tolerated – wind back a few years, and non-compliance would have resulted in some sort of office equipment hurled in your direction. Staplers, hole-punches, and pens were all fair game. Sadly, this brutal but fair treatment has been replaced with the dreaded disciplinary review and the 'we are disappointed in you' speech that parents have been giving their teenage miscreants for aeons.

Despite raised expectations of interns’ achievements and work ethic, the coffee-making and photocopying that used to form the cornerstone of a successful work placement remains a vital part of the intern experience. As one intern reports: “On days when the boss comes in, I leave the house at 5am. This gives me time to get him his chai tea latte,” – some things have changed – “and then I prepare my one intelligent question of the day, which will hopefully mean I avoid photocopying duties,” – some things have not changed.

Games at interns’ expense are still rife. The latest involves phone calls in the early hours of the morning when the poor intern has finally returned home to get some sleep. The caller demands to know his or her opinion on the price change of a given security. This may happen several times per night. While this may lack the immediate humour of the bubble for a spirit level or some tartan paint, the effect of this intellectual bombardment is similar. While keeping the intern in his place, it serves to make him a part of the institution – it is a rite of passage that makes him feel like he belongs.

Life as an intern sounds like hell, but would they have it any other way? Not a chance.

Washed up at 40 part I



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