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The raw, funny truth about being a trader in the US, Europe and Asia

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What are the actual differences between traders in different locales? What do they really do when the markets are crawling?

For a behind-the-scenes (and hilarious) look, we turned to Wall Street trader-turned-stand-up-comedian Raj Mahal. He answered a few of our questions below.

What do traders really do when the markets are this slow?

When markets are this slow, traders find something else to wager on.  Whether it’s the World Cup, how many minutes before the lunch order arrives, or how much money it would take for someone to attempt to eat a whole tub of mayonnaise.

My all time favorite eating contest was when I raised $10,000 to have a junior trader eat one of each of the 30 different items in the vending machine.  He was to receive the money if could eat this junk in 30 minutes.  My estimate is that he was looking at about 6,900 calories. Chips, Doritos, Oreos, Twizzlers, you name it and only 2 hours after lunch!!

I thought it was physically impossible to eat that fast even if he could keep it down.  I give him credit because he really tried. It was the first time I ever saw someone cut up Twizzlers with scissors. About 80% of the way through, he ran off the desk in the direction of the men’s room. He didn’t finish, but we gave him half the money anyway.

You’ve worked with traders from three different continents. Take me through the stereotypes of traders on each one. What makes them different?

I have worked with traders from Asia, Europe and the US and they are different. There are some common traits among all. Smart, hard working and arrogant. Here are some common traits of traders in each country:

American:

Trading style: Client driven. Like to talk with clients about positions and that’s how a lot of trade ideas come about. Usually on the same side of a trade with their clients.

Pros: Drinks like a fish, but highly functioning when hung over. Drink of choice is Vodka or Scotch. Always have a “guy” when you are trying to get into that hot club, extracurricular activities or balloons for a kids party.

Cons: Dress like they work at Brooks Brothers. Can be too Mr. Wall Street. Always have a “guy” when you are trying to get into that hot club, extracurricular activities or balloons for a kids party.

Europeans:

Trading style: Very quantitative. Likes computer models to determine what to do. Doesn’t trust clients. Always think clients are trying to screw them so they screw clients too.

Pros: Impeccably dressed. Likes to drink and can function well hungover. Drink of choice is French wines and hates American wines.

Cons: Takes lots of vacations. Smokes lots of cigarettes.Tend to disappear for hours. Disliked by all non-Europeans.

Asians:

Trading style: Love to take risk. Some would call it gamble. Are extremely superstitious. Think a big part of trading is luck.

Pros:  Really LOVE to drink.  Very good with Asian clients.  Their drink of choice is any shot you put in front of them.  Always up for a trip to a casino or poker game.

Cons: Are completely useless when hungover. Clothes are always either one size too small or too big. Can’t understand what they are talking about.

How superstitious are traders? Any particular superstition a colleague had that’s of interest?

Traders can be very superstitious.  If you are making a lot of money the worst thing you can do is bring it up. It’s like talking to a pitcher about his no-hitter. I have seen guys wear the same tie two weeks in a row. (Hopefully that’s the only thing he wore two weeks in a row). One time I walked into the bathroom and this guy was peeing while he was brushing his teeth.  I asked him, “What the hell are you doing?”

He replied, “Rajjjjy baby. I did this all last week and I never made more money trading in my life.”

So I asked him if he had an extra toothbrush. He didn’t and I asked him, “Can I borrow that one?”

Likewise, traders can be emotional when they are losing money. When I was losing money, I used to break phones because it was clearly the fault of the phone and I needed to exorcise those demons. I used to scream at my broker, my dog, the wall paper. I used to go into the bathroom and scream at the walls:  “Screw you dandelion wallpaper. This is your fault!!”

Paint me the picture of your typical compliance person

I feel compliance people get a bad reputation. Compliance people are like the cops. You have to hire the right compliance person and get them on your side. Befriend them. Take them out for drinks. Take embarrassing photos and save them for a rainy day. That way when you get caught for something minor like a speeding ticket, front-running a customer order or insider trading you get off with a warning.

You want to hire compliance people that you can easily fool like Lt. Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) in The Naked Gun. Or someone willing to look the other way like Axel Foley from Beverly Hills Cop.The one you want to avoid like the plague is someone willing to take the law into his own hands. If you meet your new compliance guy and he looks like Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry, start working on your resume!

An investment banker, a trader and a risk pro are on a boat that is sinking and there is only one life jacket. Who gets it and why?

In that scenario this is what I think happens. The trader tells the risk pro to do some analysis of the distance to shore, how fast before the boat capsizes and what is the likelihood of being able to swim to land given current tides.

The trader tells the investment banker to call his contacts and see if there is a yacht in the area to rescue them. In the meantime, the trader dons the lone life jacket and swims to shore.

Raj Malhotra (Raj Mahal is his stage name) is a former Wall Street trader-turned-stand-up-comedian. He has worked at Wall Street firms covering three continents, including at Bank of America, BNP Paribas and Nomura. He draws from his unique ethnic background and Wall Street career to entertain audiences nightly, highlighting the struggles of the 1 percent. He can be seen at Gotham Comedy Club, Broadway Comedy Club, NY Comedy Club, Greenwich Village Comedy Club, and the Tribeca Comedy Lounge. Follow him on Follow him on Twitter @RajMahalTweets or his website therajmajal.com.

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