The Trader: It's hard to pity the vanishing pit traders
Who feels sorry for anyone who left school at 16 and earns loads more than you?
Wednesday 07 July 1999
"Hmm," I say. "To be scrupulously fair, there are an awful lot of people who wear silly jackets to work, and most of them have never even threatened to bring down any financial institution. It seems a bit harsh to condemn them all just for a bit of dodgy dress sense."
I'm not quite sure what's brought on Jane's uncharacteristic post-film grumpiness. It may be because she was actually wanting to see The Matrix, which was sold out, and she may be suffering from not having a Keanu Reeves fix.
There again, it may be that bank collapses aren't really a spectator sport and she wishes she'd been watching paint dry for the past two hours instead.
Or it may be that she's thinking about all those times she's encountered futures and options traders in the past - and not one of them was as presentable as Ewan McGregor. "Do you remember that ghastly duo, what were their names? You know, we met them in Barbados," Jane suddenly says, confirming my third guess.
She's talking, without a doubt, about Darren and Bobby, who were so used to being in the pit that they couldn't talk at a normal volume any more. That wouldn't have been so bad, I suppose, if their conversation had been remotely interesting; as it was, it was mostly stories about girls, drugs and money, and the occasional pun on "Liffe" and "life". Enough to put you off futures traders for ... well, life, really.
"They're an endangered species, of course," I remind Jane. "We should be feeling sorry for them." I pause. It is, after all, quite an effort to feel sorry for anyone who left school at 16 and still earns loads more than you.
Still, it's a big, bad, brave new world opening up out there for them, and adjusting to trading on computers instead of by open outcry is going to be a massive struggle for many. "Just as well it's being phased in gradually," I continue. "Gives them all a chance to find another career if they want it."
Jane laughs. "What other careers? There can't be that many jobs that allow you to shout and wave your arms around all day. Not in this country, anyway. I mean, can you name even one?" Teacher, I think, conjuring up a vision of my maths mistress on the rampage. But she was the exception rather than the rule, and, anyway, you need a degree to teach.
No, Jane has a good point. Being immensely good at one job in the City doesn't mean you're going to be good at anything else. My arcane knowledge of interest rates in a large foreign country not only makes for poor dinner- party chat, it also counts me out of ever getting anything in, say, corporate finance or television - well, not unless someone starts doing programmes like "Ready, Steady, Trade" in which contestants bring in a mixed bag of stocks, shares and options and are given 20 minutes to turn them into a decent portfolio.
We both sigh into our glasses and change the subject to more comfortable topics. The evening slips away. All too soon it's Monday morning and I'm just about to sit down at my desk when Rory strides over.
"Good news," he says. "I've got us a coffee lady, and she'll be here any minute. No more nasty instant in plastic cups. I mean, as if a machine could ever replace a real person ..."
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