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Stories from the Institutional past
Meetings for meeting's sake.
Stories from the institutional past is a collection of memories and hands-on experience from my 20+ years working in larger institutions. Names of individuals, of course, have been changed to preserve anonymity. I hope you enjoy some of the snippets and maybe even lessons that I have learned.
Meetings are usually a waste of time
I am usually in the office around 7.15 am. As I am passing through the lobby, there are a few people rushing through the beeping gates and up into their elevators. Some have a coffee in hand and what looks like a bagged-up quick-fire breakfast.
The door opens to my floor. I take a turn to the right and through another set of doors which require my pass. I am receiving my first “good morning” of the day. A nice feeling, I have to say.
I pass the desk of the high-yield guys. They are always in first, no matter what time I would roll in. They are plugging away; typically, there would be no hellos from that crowd.
As I take the long straight down to my team’s area, I look around and say hello to people who are already present. It’s always the usual suspects.
My boss is there, as usual, and two of my other team members as well. I am last; I don’t care as I usually work later.
I have already glanced at markets on my Bloomberg mobile application while commuting. I’ve also checked my emails and yesterday’s performance report.
Our team owns its own Nespresso machine, financed by a swear jar which was in place for a quarter. We had enough to get two but bought tons of capsules instead. I take my first coffee of the day and sit down on my desk, marvelling over the screens and looking at any unusual movements since I have been off my train.
I fire up my own spreadsheet, which feeds data automatically from the in-house system. It also features links to Bloomberg. I always liked to look at things in Excel; it’s just a religion for me.
I look at real-time data, WTD, MTD, and YTD PnL per portfolio and strategy. Positions have moved slightly, so I am putting in a few trades to rebalance and bring them all in line. Easy peasy, the centralised desk does the rest.
It’s 7.50 am. The nearby meeting room is filling up with people. It’s the credit meeting. While not a credit manager, I sit in to hear about things. 80% of the time, it would be about new issues and their relative attractiveness on the curve. Mostly boring.
8.15 am. The larger fixed-income meeting starts. We are usually rotating the chair to ask questions. Mostly, each team goes around and tells us what happened in their respective markets.
EM, Europe, UK, Global, FX, Credit, ABS, HY, Macro.
75% of the time, it’s just a recap of yesterday’s news and maybe some trades that teams have done. Waste of time as that’s not going to transpire into alpha.
As usual, there is a monologue of the head of fixed income on his views about markets. They are usually all consensus. Nobody dares to counter or challenge him.
I never felt compelled to say much in those meetings. I was more vocal in my own team meeting. Looking back, I should have challenged others more. The usual suspects used the forum to hear themself speak. Upon reflection, the meeting’s only purpose was to say that there were meetings of “idea exchange” when clients would ask.
But the reality is that it was a show of self-marketing brilliance by those who wanted to stand out. That trick usually worked as they were seen as thought leaders, unfortunately, regardless of whether they were making money or not.
8.45 am, rates meeting. All rates PM would talk trades. This was probably the best meeting in terms of idea generation. No fluff, no yesterday’s summary, just pure ideas on the table. It was smaller, though, without someone running the show. We were usually 10 in a room, and the meeting wouldn’t take longer than 15 minutes.
9.30 am, team meeting at the desk. Quick huddle in the ring. Everyone goes through portfolio performance and risk and any outliers. Quick summary of major things going on both from a PM and asset-raising perspective. The dedicated product manager would also chip in with any updates and developments on the client side.
10 am - 1 pm, time to read research and study models and ponder new and existing trades.
Quick lunch grab, eating al-desko and then tune in to the global call at 1.30 pm. This would include the world of Muni, MBS and more levered strategies and their input. Again, just a recap of yesterday’s events.
2.30 pm. Risk meeting. The lovely people show all kinds of charts across portfolios and strategies; the risk is broken down by various factors, and the risk brainies explain any questions the PMs would have. Mostly, nothing exciting comes out of this.
3 pm - 6.30 pm. Finally, time to go after my job properly after having been in meetings for the bulk of the day. What did I learn? Not much. How much time is wasted? Plenty. Quite often, I would be drawn into other meetings on various other matters.
Packing my things and going to the gym before taking a ride home. I am reflecting on the day. Nothing happened. Another 11-hour day was spent mostly in meetings. I could have been so much more productive.
This was a typical day in the institutional world. Again, upon reflection, the self-marketers used it wisely to promote themselves. Most people were passive bystanders. Not challenging other views, myself included.
The lessons learned were clear. Large meetings usually result in sub-optimal outcomes and consensus thinking. Smaller, more focused meetings are better. Best when nobody is running the show. Don’t talk about what happened yesterday unless it’s informing you to make a decision today as you anticipated things to change. Don’t buy a team coffee machine, as everyone will use it.
To be continued …
Robert Glasper is piano playing musical genius, mixing jazz and blues notes with modern musical mixes and hip-hop genres. I was lucky enough to see his gig in Hackney, which was electric in many ways, mixing songs with surprise guests Lianne La Havas (another Paper favourite) and Common. Have a listen to his outstanding work.
The below song is a cover of Radiohead’s Reckoner.