Heads of trading stress the importance of office interactions as asset managers grapple with hybrid work setups

Four heads of trading desks highlighted the challenges and opportunities of a hybrid working model at TradeTech.

Within a hybrid work model of the future, heads of trading have reminded the industry of the benefits of teamwork, relationships and learning that can only come with in-person interaction.

Speaking at the TradeTech Europe conference, the group – consisting of Invesco, Polar Capital, Liontrust and Fidelity – agreed the model of the future would be flexible, but said there is still plenty to work out.

While they agreed there are positives to remote working – the ability to create more diverse teams and productivity in certain areas of the traders’ role – they also agreed there are challenges that cannot be overcome by fully remote working.

“The main thing to think about as global firms is the culture,” said Tom Stevenson, head of equity trading, EMEA Fidelity International. “A lot of us rely on established relationships, trust and good will that we’ve built over time and there’s danger that erodes over time if people don’t come together as teams.”

“We were doing this because we had to do it – to start with – now we’re making a conscious decision to allow our traders to continue working from home.”

Matthew McLoughlin Head of Trading at Liontrust, added: “What I think people need to learn to do themselves in relation to working from home is manage their time better. Because everybody has had a whole career, being in the office five days a week, generally.

“Now we need to plan what’s better done at home, and what’s better done in the office. The next rebalance day, I probably shouldn’t be at home for that even if it’s my working from home day, but if I need to re-write policies or do deep data dive work, maybe I could focus on that better at home.”

McLoughlin said we have to start relearning how to work, which will come over the next year or so. “That’s a necessity in order to get the optimal mix.”

Alex Jenkins, global head of trading at Polar Capital – and the winner of this year’s Trader of the Year (Hedge Funds) at The Trade’s Leaders in Trading awards – said that through remote working, some people were more productive in certain aspects of their roles.

“We can see an opportunity for more open-minded thinking when it comes to how you structure your desk,” she explained. “We’ve also learned that people like being in the office. There is a benefit to social interactions, a creativity that comes with being around other people, there are discussions that happen, learning by osmosis, chance encounters. We look at all those things and think that it makes sense for us to be flexible.”

David Miller, head of EMEA trading at Invesco, pointed out the challenges of onboarding new starters in a remote environment.

“How do you train new joiners and induct them into the business? That’s the hardest thing. That osmosis – as we mentioned – is very hard when you’re remote,” he said.

“A lot of the business is learnt through experience, and that’s very difficult to replicate in remote situations.”

There were however, benefits of remote working pointed out by the panel, specifically for diversity. Jenkins highlighted how it had opened up the possibility of more diverse desks, both now and in the future, as well as the ability to capture new talent.

“One of the unique opportunities that came from this is the rebalancing of family responsibility,” she said. “The idea that people can be more flexible, means that women, predominantly, who have had that family carer role, can rely more on fathers to take that up, can think about re-joining the workforce or think about taking on senior roles, that’s very important when it comes to diversity. We have a greater universe of people to pick from when we’re looking to hire.”

While future work trends are likely to vary based on geography, firm and industry, it seems a hybrid model is here to stay. But for now trading desks are still grappling with the number of days working from home versus the office.

“I’d be annoyed if everyone was working from home five days a week so it’s never going to get to that stage,” said McLoughlin. “Let’s see what technology will enable us to do.”