On a lukewarm Friday afternoon, I sat with Bozhidar Petrov – a trader at Flow Traders, to chat about his life, work and the advice he has for current students.
Can you tell me a bit more about Flow Traders?
Flow Traders is a trading firm that specialises in market-making and ETFs (exchange-rated funds) at the moment, and expanding on more products, like currencies, for example.
What language is spoken here in the company?
Well, mostly English is used, but there is a number of Dutch people too, so they would speak Dutch to each other every so often.
So the company is quite lenient on the Dutch language?
Yes, exactly. I mean, the official language is English, and if you catch someone speak Dutch and you want to get involved, you can simply ask. There is absolutely no problem with that.
Tell me about yourself. What is your background? How did you end up here?
I am originally from Bulgaria, studied mathematics in the UK for three years at the University of Warwick. After graduation I got hired by a firm in Hong Kong. So, without much delay, I went to Hong Kong to trade options there. Having worked for about 1.5 – 2 years, I decided that company was not much for me, so I began looking for another position and came across Flow Traders. So far I am really satisfied with the culture in here, it is a massive difference compared to my former company, compared to other companies as well, judging on what I heard from the people of my profession.
You moved from mathematics to trading. How did this transition happen?
Well, the pure Maths is rarely directly applicable to… anything. I’d say you need to do a PhD in order to fully understand and apply the knowledge.
So at which point did you decide to devote your career to finance?
I think, right away when choosing a degree. I wanted something that would offer broad career opportunities, so that I had an option to single it out later. And finance was an obvious choice, since the financial industry loves mathematicians, or even physicists, whom they hire in droves. Moreover, there was a number of career fairs at the university. To get ahead, one just needs basic economics, maybe take a module or two at the university. During interviews there are often Maths questions coming up, like probability puzzles. So, again, it is a very common career path, it might not sound too straightforward but it actually is.
How long have you been at Flow Traders since they fished you out from Hong Kong?
What about other people in the company? What is their background? Mostly mathematics as well?
Well, it is rather diverse here. Nonetheless, I would say the majority of traders had studied quantitative disciplines like statistics, maths, or finance.
Did you do master’s degree?
No, I did not do any.
Do people come here mostly straight with bachelor’s?
Well, no. I would assume master’s is a pre-requisite in here. However, I am a little bit of an exception because I had worked in the field for roughly 1.5 years already. So, experience was something I could put on the table. In that sense, a couple of years of experience was more of importance than getting a master’s, since landing a job was harder before than now. I would say it is becoming easier to find a job now; the market is getting more and more flexible.
In retrospect, would you suggest doing a master’s nonetheless?
Well, it is a hard question. If I had studied master’s I would have had subjects that would be more applicable here. Whereas with my mathematics degree at my third year I had some to-be-applied subjects, but not as many. In that sense, that would have come in useful. I would say, a couple of years ago if you had had a job offer, I would have firmly encouraged taking it, but these days I am not so sure, one probably needs to study on. As I said, some time ago, it was harder to get a job. The market now offers many more opportunities.
Back to Flow Traders, what is the corporate culture here like? How does life flow here?
The standard day would be such. One comes in at 7:30. For some it is a bit earlier or later, depending on what they trade. It all starts with checking theoretical prices. Say, you have a product that is being traded for 50 € somewhere. And the theoretical price you found says it could be traded for 51 €. Before buying and selling, you must be sure the theoretical prices are fully correct, so you spend half an hour on it in the morning. After, you go to a morning meeting where an analyst reads out all the gathered news. He relays that to you in a very compact way and you might hold a brief discussion. In short, once the trading commenced, you are constantly evaluating if the theoretical prices are right and whether you like the positions, you are in etc. Through the day, you are constantly tuned in to the news to get the freshest information possible. At 17.45 the market closes, after which you need to do you end-of-the-day valuations, where you make sure that all the bookings are correct etc. It is a little bit tedious but thereafter you can stay over, work on a new strategy etc. So, essentially one goes home at 18:00. If you are doing your job well, you can come at 7:30 and leave at 18:00, nobody would say anything. However, most people here are really motivated so they tend to stay over after 18:00 as well. Nevertheless, it is not like a bank culture where a boss has to see you at his desk on and off. Here it is more liberal. Obviously, at the end of the day it is all judged by how well your work is done.
What is your extra-work life like?
We have an in-house gym here. Either you can stay over for a class like aerobics, boxing etc. at 18:30 or go to the gym in here. I go there twice-thrice a week. We also have a floor bar downstairs, that is really great. Outside office, I obviously go out on Friday nights, Saturday nights, play football. Sunday is mostly the chill-day, where I stay home, watch something or call my friends over. I also do a lot of travelling around. I would say, I go on a major trip once a month or so. So, unlike university, people here will want you to relax after work. The weekdays are quite intense so some rest is always essential.
Lastly, what advice would you have for current students?
Don’t miss on extra-curricular activities. They will help a lot during interviews in the future. Interpersonal, social skills are in high demand with employers now.