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The coarse talk of the banking trade | Joris Luyendijk

Category : Business

The vulgar vocabulary of the trading floor may help to explain the hierarchy that allowed the Barclays scandal to continue

“Did you hear the one about that big swinging dick who just made a monkey?”

No, this is not a joke or even a randomly generated piece of gobbledegook. This is how traders talk.

Of all the fascinating insights into the financial sector to come out of the Barclays Libor scandal so far, the emails between traders stand out as particularly rich stuff. They offer a window into a world unto itself, where a specific vocabulary seems to bond people together while desensitising them to the enormity of the amounts they work with.

In one of the emails a trader tells a colleague in the Treasury department – someone he is strictly forbidden from even communicating with: “We have about 80 yards fixing for the desk and each 0.1 lower in the fix is a huge help for us.”

What this trader means is that he is working with £80bn. But that sounds and feels different when you say “80 yards”. As a Twitter crowdsourcing exercise among banking blog followers revealed, there are special terms for a million as well as 500 million.

@JLbankingblog monkey is £500 or £500m (500 rupee note had a monkey on it). Bar = bar of gold used to be c£1m Yard = short for “milliard”.

— Dan Davies (@dsquareddigest) June 28, 2012

Things move very fast on the trading floor and you can’t have boxes popping up your screen asking “are you sure you want to sell a bar?” When a trader messes up and buys rather than sells, or gets the numbers wrong, he has a “fat finger”, probably leading to him “taking a bath” – losing a lot.

There are terms for currencies, big wins and clients:

@JLbankingblog loonie = canadian dollar, cable = sterling usd rate, copey = danish krona, greenback = usd, kiwi = nzd, swissie = chf

— Emad (@EMostaque) June 28, 2012

@JLbankingblog big wins = making it rain/blowout (lots more), clients: swiss sometimes called gnomes of zurich, punters (not derogatory)

— Emad (@EMostaque) June 28, 2012

This tells you something about compensation:

@JLbankingblog one interesting one is x over y, ie he’s gone to megabank on 1 over 2 = 1m guarantee for two years.. Rare now..

— Emad (@EMostaque) June 28, 2012

A trading floor consists of the front office, sometimes also known as “the dark side”. This is where the traders are, while back- and middle-office is populated by those doing the trader’s paperwork.

The big earning traders are BSD or big swinging dicks, and the ones making the most are “the rain makers”. Traders have to comply with internal rules supervised by the bank’s risk and compliance officers, and they are called, in the words of one of their own, “business blockers”.

One question about the Barclays scandal is why its risk and compliance officers did nothing for so long. The trading floor’s vocabulary may help answer that by bringing out a bank’s internal hierarchy, where traders are the “revenue generators” while those keeping them in check are commonly referred to as a “cost centre”.

Then there’s the refreshingly coarse language. Traders, and many others in banking, may dress in a suit but they talk like miners:

Submitter: “[A manager has] asked me to put it lower than it was yesterday … to send the message that we’re not in the shit.”

A former interviewee with trading floor experience sent in this expression via email, “‘The market is up and down like a whore’s drawers”, while former intern on a trading floor told the banking blog: “If I got the breakfast order wrong, I’d be called the c-word. They use that all the time, the worst word in the English language. The first time I remember being quite shocked, thinking: that’s a bit of an overreaction. But that’s what I loved: no politics, and you can speak without a filter.”

Most interviewees on the banking blog who work in financial markets describe the trading floor as a mixture of a playground and a battle trench. One former head of structuring says: “There’s a reason we have all this martial language. ‘Rip someone’s face off’, ‘working in the trenches’, take no prisoners’.”

Or as one of the emails had it: “Trader to manager, complaining about a submitter: ‘He’s like, I think this is where it should be. I’m like, dude, you’re killing us.’” Or this: “External trader to a Barclays trader: ‘If it comes in unchanged I’m a dead man.’”

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