Finance: On The Floor

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The Independent Culture
Back at work after my mercy-dash business trip to Tokyo, I have realised an important fact: that it's better to be in the same office as the odious Neil than in one several thousand miles away and trying to understand what he's saying on the phone.

To say that words are not Neil's strong point is a massive understatement. His approach to assembling sentences reminds me of the Lottery machine: they both work by random selection, and what comes out is a load of balls. Even worse, Neil is the only person who doesn't think he's inarticulate. Consequently, he insists on peppering his speech with words he's picked up from the Sunday papers. He doesn't understand them, of course, so they've obviously not been filtered through his brain. Laura's theory is that they are absorbed into his body as he runs his finger along each line, and then passed directly to his mouth when he chews his nails. "Must be like a thesaurus in his nostrils then," I comment.

One curious aspect of Neil's scatter-gun approach to language is that, as long as you don't analyse what he says, he actually sounds as if he knows what he's talking about. He can be quite impressive at times, even if you know from past experience that he's talking rubbish. There was, after all, that famous incident when Freddie and Marco spent the day giving their customers completely opposite advice on the basis of what they thought they understood of Neil's commentary at the daily 9am meeting.

The secret of Neil's plausible nonsense is to use long words and spadefuls of jargon and acronyms, delivered with boatloads of arrogance. Mind you, to be fair (much as I hate being fair to Neil), he's not the only person around who uses words to impress rather than communicate - and this business is prone to them.

Not that this is always a bad thing. On the contrary, it can be made to work to our advantage. Take, for instance, the situation where we're trying to convince the credit risk department to let us do a complex deal that will either earn us buckets of money or destroy the bank. I have found it's entirely possible to explain the transaction in such a way that none of the credit managers has a hope in hell of understanding. I love the look in their eyes as they stand there, panicking silently because they don't want to look stupid by asking questions, and nodding sagely. "Well," they say confidently, at the end of the obfuscation, "it sounds like a great deal, carry on."

Befuddling credit managers is one of life's crueller pleasures in which I try not to indulge too often on the grounds that it makes one cynical. Fortunately, I have avoided running up an awful karmic overdraft in this way by finding something to do with words that gives me a real sense of achievement: the evening market report. This commentary, which is e-mailed to the teams in Tokyo and New York at the end of our trading day, is a source of endless satisfaction. Not only does it detail all the lucrative deals we've closed in the past 12 hours, it also gives me a chance to sum up the mood of the market with a few well-chosen phrases.

I am not the only trader who finds words as interesting as numbers, it's true - Laura is no mean writer herself when she tries. But, happily, chief honcho Rory can see how much I enjoy my scribbling, so he's always getting me to put together manuals for the trading system, monthly reports, new- product descriptions, and all the rest. It adds an extra dimension to the day, especially when the markets are either deathly quiet or so volatile that no one dares commit to anything.

Imagine my shock, then, when Rory came over to tell me I wouldn't be doing the next bit of writing. "Don't be offended," he said. "It's a description of a highly risky deal for which we need credit approval, so it needs to be especially confusing. I know you could do it, but when it comes to muddling people, the natural choice just has to be Neil."

The Trader