What is it like to work at Flowtraders?

This is an English translation of the original interview

In March 2020, Britt and Marjolein (FSA Marketing 2019-2020) visited Flow Traders. Flow Traders was all over the news in February because of its quadrupled profits. As an Amsterdam market maker, it specializes in providing liquidity on the securities market. This immediately prompts images of screaming people and ringing phones. Erik-Jan Nieboer (28) has been working at Flow Traders for 3.5 years, and tells us what it’s like to be a trader.

Could you tell us something about your background and how you ended up at Flow Traders?

“Of course! I did the bachelor Accountancy in Groningen. I soon found out that accounting was not really my thing and I went on to search for something different. That is how I ended up doing the master Finance, in Groningen. During my masters, I started orientating on a job. I had a look at several banks, but I eventually ended up at Flow Traders. During a business course I got into contact with the company. From the outside, it’s difficult to see what a day on the job looks like. The business course gave me more insight into this, and I found out that it suits me well.”

What is trading exactly? What is so great about it?

“Everyone is working towards a direct goal. In the end, it is simply about earning money. It is very result-oriented and as a trader you have a lot of impact on these results, which really appealed to me. When I noticed this in the business course, I was almost certain that I wanted to do this job.”

“We are basically a market maker. This means that we are always on the securities market to provide a price “on exchange” as well as to parties asking for anything. These are mainly ETFs, exchange-traded funds. These can be seen as baskets of shares that are traded on the market. You work with bid and ask prices – the price at which securities, goods or currencies are offered for sale. You make a profit from the spread in between.”

“The market never stops: in the morning the first prices come in from our offices in Singapore and Hong Kong. We will then take over the market in Amsterdam. New York finally takes over from us. This way, we serve the entire world market 24 hours a day.”

Does this also mean that there are opportunities to work abroad?

“Wherever you apply, everyone starts in Amsterdam as a junior trader. You will be in this position for six months to obtain all certificates and to have trainings. This is an intensive, but educational period. After this, you will start working at the office where you were hired, which can also be an international office. It is true that all development takes place in Amsterdam. That is why I prefer Amsterdam. At the moment, I have no ambition to move to an international office, although New York seems very cool to me.”

Sounds interesting! Can you tell us a bit more about what you do as a trader and what your week looks like?

“At Flow Traders we are divided into so-called ‘desks’. These represent the products that are traded on the market. I am now head-of-desk within commodities. Commodities are raw materials such as oil, gold, silver and gas. When we arrive at the office in the morning, we immediately immerse ourselves in what is currently going on around the products. Are there any developments in the world that will affect the figures, factors that affect liquidity, what do we expect will happen today, etc.”

“My weeks differ a lot. Trade is of course the most important. If there is a lot of trade, all focus is on that. For example, when OPEC comes together and the market changes, it gets very busy for us. You postpone other things that you encounter at that moment. You continue to work on those things during calmer moments. Algorithms play an increasingly important role in this, they take over part of our work by offering a price. I sometimes compare our work to that of air traffic controllers. If everything goes well, the algorithms will do their job, but human influence is still required to control everything and to keep improving the algorithms. I am often in contact with the developers and quants at our office. So you can work at a strategic level as a trader if you find this interesting.”

You are talking about busier moments, can we picture it as the typical trading floor in movies, with people screaming and phones ringing?

“Haha, of course we like to see ourselves that way. In the movies, it is a bit exaggerated, but it does happen sometimes. When something big happens in the market, everyone must be focused and no mistakes should be made. Then it may get noisy sometimes. At these moments, everyone is full of adrenaline and you have to be able to work under pressure. I personally think these are the best moments in this work. That you are finished and think “that went great”. The atmosphere is very competitive: if someone does not agree with something, we put a bet on it. That makes the work extra fun.”

Why did you ultimately choose Flow Traders and not another trading company?

“When I decided for myself that I wanted to become a trader, I briefly focused on other trading companies. I went to some in-house days, but I was much more attracted to Flow Traders. The atmosphere was fresh and open. I got the idea that there was room for ideas and that I could also implement them. Now that I have been with Flow Traders for a while, I notice that this is really the case. The atmosphere is very relaxed and not hierarchical at all. Despite the fact that we have become quite large as a company, the lines have remained short. At Flow Traders you get the chance to look at different  ‘desks’ and specialize in what you find interesting.”

Flow Traders has done very well in the past year, where do you think this success comes from?

“I think this is because we are good at mapping out what can happen in the market. We are prepared for every scenario and are able to respond to all possible changes in the market immediately.”

What was your application process like?

“Because I had done the business course, I could skip the first round. Therefore, the process looked slightly different for me. Normally you write a cover letter, after which you take a math test and an IQ test. The math test sounds exciting, but it is easy to practice. It is of course also an important part of the job as a trader, which you must enjoy. If you have passed these tests you will proceed to the motivational interview. The last round is a case study. You usually hear whether you will be hired on the day itself.”

Finally, what does your future within Flow Traders look like?

“I find that difficult to say at the moment. In principle, the goal is to grow and not to be a trader until you retire. For instance, I could grow to head-of-trading. I don’t know what I want exactly, but at Flow Traders you gain a lot of knowledge, which means that the range of possibilities is broad. It is a great company to work at. The atmosphere is very good and you are well taken care of. For example, we have a gym with personal trainers, football teams, a big Christmas party and outings with colleagues. Soon we will go to Mallorca with my team, which I think will be a very nice trip!”

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