We recently caught up with Byron, a Senior Managing Director in TP ICAP’s Broking function, about his career journey. He gives a great insight into life in the financial sector, plus some top tips to shine in your application.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your career background?
I believe in the maxim: preparation + opportunity = luck. You require both to be ‘lucky’ in the generally accepted understanding. There has, undoubtedly, been good fortune in my career. My first opportunity arrived from a request to a family friend to repair my laptop. He worked the technology support for a well-known German bank. After he’d kindly repaired my laptop, he asked if I could meet him at his office to pick it up. He admitted it would save him some time and I had received a free service so wasn’t going to argue the point. To seal the deal, he offered the possibility to see a trading floor and maybe the chance to speak to someone on the trading floor. At this stage, I didn’t have any preparation. I was reading Business Economics with a loose understanding that it might lead to opportunities in consulting, industry or banking. I’d never met anyone who worked in an investment bank or brokerage firm. To my knowledge, they weren’t commonly spotted in the pocket of Southeast London where I grew up.
I made my way to Houndsditch and walked into the IT department of the German bank. The low lighting, endless trail of wires and low hum emitting from the computers made for a claustrophobic atmosphere. I knew this wasn’t something I could imagine for myself. I sat and listened carefully as they discussed how I should care for my laptop. At the end of the technology lesson, I asked if it would still be possible to see the trading floor.
I wasn’t sure what it would look like. I’d watched Trading Places but that was the extent of my understanding. I walked onto the floor and was lost for words. Endless rows of computer monitors sunk into the desks (this was pre flat screen technology!). Each desk had two computer monitors, at least two keyboards and a microphone. People walking around with intent and purpose. Others were either huddled in corners of the floor talking or shouting across the large monitors. I was ushered through the rows of people shouting and walking around with headsets to be introduced to a young salesperson. I felt invisible to the busy worker bees around me. I sat down and he proceeded to speak at 100mph about being an Equities Salesperson. He suggested that I develop a sound understanding of the industry and the many roles available. He recalled that one book in particular was key to his interest in banking: ‘Liar’s Poker’ by Michael Lewis. I pretended to understand the various concepts and ideas in his monologue and nodded intently for what seemed like an eternity. In reality, I think the entire experience from start to finish was no longer than five minutes. I decided that this was an area in which I wanted to work.
From that point I was prepared. I tried to ensure that I was always organised and ready for any opportunity. I earned a placement year at Société Générale in my third year of university. I transferred into broking at the early stages of the Credit Default Swap market in 2003. I then brokered through Lehman, Icelandic banking crisis, Grexit, Quantitative Easing and Brexit. In 2016, I was made the Desk Head of Financial Bonds. I was promoted to the role of Senior Managing Director of Credit EMEA last year.
What’s been a key highlight from your time at TP ICAP?
The key highlight of my time at TP ICAP has been watching the steady development of the junior brokers. When you join a desk, there’s an initial period of feeling uninformed. The first issue is usually the ‘language’. Each product area will have their own nuances of how they transact. Their own acronyms and backronyms for seemingly everything. There is also a lot of unspoken elements that reflect the desks culture. The ways and norms in which each person is expected to behave. These elements always seemed, in my experience, impossible to decipher. I thought I would never understand or remember all the different names what I should or shouldn’t do. However, this part of being a junior broker will take less time that you think. It’s the market understanding that takes longer.
You will read and learn textbook economics. However, the main issue often attributed to economics is that it makes a lot of assumptions around human behaviour. As a result, you learn in the role. The people around you help you to understand. They use their experience of the markets behaviour to impart probable outcomes from data, trading levels or news headlines.
Personally, I’ve always enjoyed teaching and helping others. Seeing them develop and prosper after years of conversations, explanations and guidance is continually rewarding.
How would you describe the culture at the firm?
The culture here is both competitive but also respectful. There’s an underlying understanding that everyone is working hard and towards the same goal. Which, I believe, reduces the chances of people over-stepping in the pursuit of achieving their goals. Finding this balance is extremely difficult for many companies but I would say that we have landed on the right side.
What does Diversity & Inclusion look like at TP ICAP?
Whilst, like many, there are spaces where we can improve the diversity and inclusion here at TPICAP, I believe we have made significant steps in the conversation.
Overall, there is diversity across all business areas. However, there is still some work to be done in the front office spaces.
In my experience, I recall the trading floor when race and ethnicity weren’t discussed. This was because, at the time, they were rarely discussed in our industry. Some felt that the industry was ‘fine as it is, thanks’. Many didn’t appreciate the need for diversity and how it can help commercially. It isn’t a simple box to tick. It can improve the way you do business and how your clients view you.
What is TP ICAP doing to progress in the space of Diversity & Inclusion?
Over a period, there has been a steady change taking place. The multicultural network has regularly hosted a selection of universities. Bringing together bright students from backgrounds that rarely have access to people who rarely meet students with that profile. Each time developing the understanding that what ‘smart’ or ‘bright’ looks like is broad and varied. This is key to the process when people can be in the position to impact the future employment of juniors and senior brokers.
I believe we’ve made significant steps in sparking dialogue and gradually shifting what people think of each other. It takes time to make meaningful change. But I’m committed to making sure we continue that journey.
What are your top tips for members wanting to achieve a successful career in the financial sector?
It depends on the space where you want to work. However, if you’d like to work in capital markets, I believe that there are a few key elements required. Excel familiarity. The ability to understand SQL or Python is extremely helpful. Languages. Understanding another language, especially after Brexit, is a huge advantage. The market is global, and your client base will be too. Generally, the trading language of choice is English, however there can be an advantage if you can speak a client’s mother-tongue. It can be helpful for developing a less formal familiarity. Flexibility. If you’re open to moving or travelling, you will naturally open more opportunities. What makes you standard in the UK could be your USP in Hong Kong or Paris.
What advice would you give for those wanting to stand out in their TP ICAP Internship application?
Each CV is interesting in its own way. However, I think when reviewing a CV, I can tell you what I’m looking for in a candidate. I look for mathematical or economic understanding and interpersonal traits. The former is normally clear from the degree subject and any other qualifications. However, the ability to be personable and develop relationships is, in my opinion, equally important.
There will be a small selection of candidates who are fortunate to have experience in the industry. But this isn’t essential or determinative for your application.
Roles in sales, hospitality or other service industries might seem less relevant but they display someone who has had to engage with a cross section of society, think on their feet and resolve issues. All elements of a broker’s day to day role. Therefore, whilst it might not seem worthwhile mentioning a summer working in McDonalds or Nando’s, it adds to the overall picture of the candidate.
Feeling inspired to kickstart a future in Finance? Check out TP ICAP's live opportunities here.