back to article How to go from the IT dept to being a rogue trader

How to be a rogue trader As a City headhunter I’m repeatedly asked to explain how lone traders find themselves flushing billions of dollars down the toilet. Rogue traders can pop up just about anywhere, and so I’ll share this curriculum for you to follow, which is not specific to any bank: this is just the way it works. Being …


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  1. Fred Flintstone Gold badge


    What a nice dose of sarcasm - thanks. :-)

    1. jai


      i dunno about the sarcasm, the article sums up precisely the environments i've seen at every investment bank i've worked in over the past 11 years.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        It's called a sociopath breeder

        More dangerous than a plutonium breeders coz the IAEA won't come take a look-see.

        But in the end, one can just socialize the cost. Hey John, kickstart that printing press, willya? Someone needs a bailout.

      2. Mark 65 Silver badge


        Yep. I've worked from back-office IT, through Risk IT to front-office desk development and backup everything Dominic says - from other things of his I've read he seems to be on the money in the industry. I can also vouch for risk paying poorly - despite doing a fantastic job (appraisals, peer review etc) I got paid shitty money and bonuses because "what you're doing is not high profile and there's another team we desperately need to prevent leakage from". I moved from there to a front-office desk role with a 75% pay-rise.

        I can also vouch for the technology stack. Excel/VBA, SQL, and I'd also add a bit of C# these days. Perception is everything. It may be a laudable aim to write excellent flexible code using paradigm XYZ or pattern ABC but traders don't give a fuck. As far as they're concerned you took too long. I'm afraid it is the whims of these sometimes attention deficit seeming individuals that will decide your pay, bonus, and future. If perfection or moral high-ground is what you seek then the front-office is not for you. If high remuneration (with a side-serve of verbal punchbag) is what you seek then it is.

        I think it is no coincidence that a lot of rogues seem to have worked their way through the business. This gives them a perfect insight into trade flow, procedures, and system visibility. The fact that their user accounts on these systems never seem to have their privileges corrected also helps.

  2. Ian Ferguson

    Superb article

    1. Kebabbert


      One of the better articles Ive ever read here. Or somewhere else.

      Funny. Witty. The writer knows what he is talking about.

      1. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart

        Not Funny...

        flightily true, all that was missing was the low golf handicap.

        But why go the route of rogue trader to fuck up a bank??? Just become a senior executive of a bank, gamble with the banks money, loose nearly all of it, get tens of thousands of people sacked to save money, leave hundreds of thousands of young people without a future because the economy is fucked and get a big pension for doing it. Take your pick of bank, barclays, HSBC, RBS, goldman sachs, bear stearns, etc. etc. etc.

        1. Mark 65 Silver badge

          Re:Not Funny

          You could argue that the executives are the successful rogues of which he speaks.

    2. Oolons

      Very good article

      I especially liked this quote

      "I emphasise this because El Reg readers are mostly well-intentioned IT people who seem to genuinely believe that building a reliable system and making code elegant and bug-free is somehow useful."

  3. Pete 2 Silver badge

    The fifth column

    During the Spanish civil war, the nationalists had 4 columns of troops attacking Madrid. Their leader broadcast that these troops were helped by a fifth column inside the besieged city. So it is with with IT systems. Every company regards the customers, or non-employees as "the enemy" so far as computer and financial security is concerned, but few take any heed of the underpaid, over-screwed (and not in a good way) people who daily, have access to all the revenue and orders that flow in or out of the company. Be it a financial trader, bank, plumber or local authority. Consequently, almost all security measures are outward-facing and few are designed to slow down the operator/programmer/sysadmin with the root password and the balls to use it.

    Even fewer of the internal security measures are ever tested - for the simple reason that they'd almost all be found to be completely ineffectual against an internal attack from someone who knew what they were doing.

    And when a discrepancy is discovered, the only place the investigators would look is at the audit trail, on the presumption that the trail, itself, is uncompromised: not a valid assumption against "root" and someone with a well thought out plan. [Although in fairness, there are lots of cases where computer staff have been caught, some even nicked. Generally these are the result of rushed or faulty frauds caused by unexpected opportunistic situations that didn't allow time to plan the crime properly. When doing Unix support I occasionally found myself being "parachuted" into a major credit card/finance company's machine room, logged into root and my "overseer" saying "... be back in half an hour"]

    So why don't you hear about rogue sys-admins, who lose their companies millions, or billions? or end up spending their autumn years in the Carribean? Simple: Not because the dishonest ones aren't getting their (unfair) share, but because they've been able to shift the blame onto some "rogue" trader, somewhere.

    1. LPF

      From my time working on projects for the banks, lots of people are caught, but the thing is do you want the world to know that you expensively created system which trades billions per day can be compromised or are you going to give them a little shutting up money and tell them to feck off out with a good reference ???

      1. DrXym Silver badge

        Perhaps it's different on trading floors

        I worked for a major private investment company and they had security absolutely all over the place. I remember propping open the door once because I had to go fetch something and had no keypass and within 30 seconds someone was over because their pager had warned them of the breach. They also had "tiger teams" whose job was penetration testing of apps. They had groups solely responsible for authentication and user sign on and security triggers plastered all over the place to detect fraud.

        Everyone went through ethics training annually. Everyone was subjected to restrictions on the kinds of trades they could do with severe restrictions on traders (as opposed to programmers / managers). Everyone was required to declare and preferably move all their investments in house where they could be monitored. All gifts had to be declared and there were strict limits on the value of gifts anybody could accept in one year. Failing to comply with any of this was a disciplinary offence, possibly leading to dismissal.

        Not to say they were perfect (a dwarf tossing incident paid for a client and a large fine kicked off a lot of the crackdown on ethics) but they really seemed to take it damned seriously. As I said I didn't work on the trading floor but I reckon everyone in the company and every manager had it drummed into them of the dire consequences if they let the company down. It still wouldn't stop a rogue trader but I suspect in the place I was at that they'd be very proactive in trying to find them.

        1. jzlondon

          Where the hell did you work?? I've worked in front office investment banking IT my whole life and have never encountered a "Tiger Team", let alone anyone who was serious about door security.

          1. DrXym Silver badge

            Well you worked in the wrong place

            It was all implemented in my place which was a privately owned US investment firm. As I said they really cracked down on ethics after getting fined for the dwarf tossing incident. Shouldn't be hard to figure out where it was from what I said.

            1. Mark 65 Silver badge

              I'm guessing private ownership made the difference - personal loss vs. shareholder loss.

              It also sounds like most of that "education" is based around a transfer of risk from the business to the individual for litigation reasons - "they knew what they were doing was wrong because we gave them XYZ training every year"

    2. Alien8n

      Defensive Thinking

      Read Kevin Mitnick's Defensive Thinking. There's a story in there of a guy who was working on a Swiss bank's systems. He persuaded the bank that he needed root access and immediately transferred millions into his own account. And don't forget that one of the biggest fraud's in banking history was perpetrated by a bank's IT dept forging the bank's customer's credit cards.

  4. James Hughes 1

    I feel sick

    (What I need to have text now?)

    1. AdamWill

      me too

      I think the only question the article didn't answer was 'how the fuck do these people sleep at nights'.

      1. craigb

        They probably sleep better than us honest shlebs, and on much better bedding

  5. morganmorgan

    Here here. Best article I have read for along time - truly excellent !

    Paris - 'cause its all beyond me...

  6. Steven Hollis

    One of the best written articles I've read on EL Reg for sometime.

    Now get back to the UBS DC on the second floor!

  7. Ironclad

    Bloody Hell

    Fascinating and scary as hell.

  8. All names Taken


    does this mean the end of capitalism?

  9. E net

    Read this book

    Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets

    "In Fooled by Randomness, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a professional trader and mathematics professor, examines what randomness means in business and in life and why human beings are so prone to mistake dumb luck for consummate skill. "

    A serious eye opener into how these things happen, why they happen and will always happen.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    rising up through the ranks

    This all presupposes you can get in in the first place. Several overstuffed mailboxes full increasingly desperate attempts to get recruiters even just to answer email or phone calls tell me otherwise. And of course all these places only use recruiters. That alone is reason enough why they get stuck with mediocre personnel. All of them overpaid because none know any better. I guess it's a living... off other people's money.

  11. All names Taken

    Impolite applause abounds

    Brilliant article - (the story was not too bad either) ad should be incorporated in expanded form into BBC's present running of Grossman's Life and Fate.

    But! I think prospective rogue traders also need advice about how to make their bonuses increase and how to salt those bonuses away from boss, company security, tax man and police (both pre- and post-crime)/

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    That sounds like a lot of people I have met in the financial industry. And very insightful in how it all works.

    AC. well because.

  13. Ru

    Excellent and informative article

    Don't suppose there's much chance of a series in this vein?

  14. Jacqui

    Back officeworker from hell

    Come on, there must be a heap of plots someone could use to write the traders version of BOFH..

  15. 27escape


    that they are only rogue and accused of bad practice when they lose the bank money

    1. Anonymous John


      And I expect he'll still get a huge annual bonus.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Reads like a dark cynical version of a techrepublic article....

    more in this vein please, esp. on different IT specialities.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I don't know much about banks and trading etc, but from my perspective it appears to be that all our issues regarding such things come from the fact that 99% of the people in these businesses are arseholes.

    Good article though, hope there's more.

  18. Michael H.F. Wilkinson

    Neat article

    Maybe I should make this mandatory reading for the new business computing track in our curriculum

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Possibly, but you may end up "inspiring" some students to actually follow the "advice" given n the article!

  19. fixit_f

    I work in front office IT....

    .... I have no desire personally to get onto the desk, but you are absolutely bang on the money with this article. The only thing I would say has moved on is that we've gone from shonky VBA "applications" to shonky .Net "Applications" - all deployed on a random server without BCP with a nice ASP page based on a stolen style sheet hiding a rat's nest of bad code, the source isn't checked in anywhere etc etc.... These little apps get absorbed into the formal business processes until one day the bloke who wrote it leaves, or the server crashes - cue pandemonium.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    at least

  21. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Proper BOFH behavior

    Excellent article and a some wise words on what's *really* valuable in the banking skillset.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Probably accurate for a year or two ago...

    ... none of that would go undetected for very long nowadays. And the rate the city is soaking up FPGA and C++ talent at the moment, I wouldn't bank on the usefulness of knowing a smattering of VB for much longer either.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    successful books on C++

    "several have written successful books on C++ and computational finance."

    Please amuse us by naming them, those successful C++ book authors who were also traders at some point.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Very well written, funny and all too depressingly believable.

    More please!

  25. All names Taken

    I say, Hollywood beckons?

    The scene:

    Terminator style opening shots of post apocalyptic mayhem and carnage....

    ... was it war?

    ... was it alien(s) invasion?

    ... did superman decide to take his cape home?

    ... no, merely the results of economic carnage impacting on western lifestyles.

    ps: no need to worry about traders going overseas (China, Russia, Korea and India will probably fill the vacuum easily?)

  26. Caoilte


    I've not read anything that good on the Register for years. many years.

  27. h4rm0ny

    Joint venture between Capita and Accenture

    That got a genuine laugh from me. What a hideous notion!

  28. Melanie Winiger

    Indeed - the Law of Averages

    Spot on :

    "You’ve worked out for yourself that occasionally a rogue must luck out, so have I. Do you imagine they were automatically taken away in handcuffs? I don’t either."


  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So yer an agent

    "As a City headhunter I’m repeatedly asked to explain how lone traders find themselves flushing billions of dollars down the toilet."

    We don't care none for your sort round these parts pardner.

    /spits gob full of tobacco juice on the floor

    (damn good read, however it's still nectie party time)

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Loved it!

    Learned more about the Philberts I work for in 5 mins of lauging, than I have bothered to care for in 10 years of working!

  31. asdf

    moral hazzard only applies to those on the dole, ha!

    Why is Socialism evil except when of course its tax payer funded bailouts?

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Joint venture between Capita and Accenture

    Close, but no comedy oversize cigar. You forgot to throw CapGemini and Baringa into the mix there.

  33. ttuk
    Thumb Up

    my god..

    This article is bang on the money.. (Well not sure about the rogue dodgy practices, but the general stuff about working in IT for traders it's like the author has been stood over my shoulder the last few years)

    Particularly the stuff about skills etc. VBA / SQL etc.. and the visible fixes.. The fact that getting the solution made as quickly as possible ignoring the fact that it'll obviously be buggy and shit.. The fact you get more credit for continually fixing stuff that breaks compared to making something that works.. The almost complete abscence of testing and any form of quality control..

    I've worked as a general IT support monkey for traders in small hedge funds the last few years and I'm desperate to get out of it now.. No desire to go into trading, I know I don't have the appetite for risk, trouble is the last few years mean my IT skills can now be summed up as VBA expert but everything else mediocre / forgotten.. It's crap.. I realised the other day I'd forgotten how pointers worked and had to go look them up.

    Anyone have any tips how to move out of cowboy coding VBA for traders and into something more interesting / rewarding??

    1. Mark 65 Silver badge


    2. Michael Dunn


      Anyone have any tips how to move out of cowboy coding VBA for traders and into something more interesting / rewarding??

      Yeah, take a 90% salary cut and get into Academia or CERN.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You can't have writers who know what they're talking about!

    Hang on -- I've been studying the media coverage of this very closely, and I deduced that there must be a rule that anybody who writes about it must have absolutely no idea of what a trading desk does or how it does it. I know the reg is cavalier towards journalistic norms, but such this article flouts the rule followed by all other newspapers and online sources so badly that surely trouble must be on its way.

  35. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    BOFH Heaven

    "..and as the regulators invent new rules that they pretend will make the markets safer."

    Amen. And that is Achilles Heel, for to know how the Game is rigged, allows Stealthy Android Progress in Virtual Machine Worlds creating Live Operational Virtual Environments with Future Play Controls 42 Command Energy in SMART Cloud Layers with NEUKlearer HyperRadioproActive IT Powers.

    Novel constructive and disruptive Intellectual Property able to collapse empires built without proper dreams and perfect preparation and planning to prevent piss-poor performance and sub-prime reward, is a mighty powerful force.

    "Traders are hostile to IT departments because they see them as black holes sucking money out of bonus pools and delivering little of any use any time soon. This is why front office want their own IT people."

    Such a pity that they don't both recognise themselves as being, although nominally independent of each other, ideally interdependent upon each other for the delivery of excellence ..... which paints things with a suitably wide and ambiguous brush so as not to have anyone wasting time on specifics.

    Of course, you may have to consider that the nature and mechanics of trading have fundamentally changed with insider dealing on zeroday trading of systemic vulnerabilities, a colossal underground black economy spinner, and if the front office can't beat them, would it be wise to enjoin with them.?!

  36. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    It was *always* the enemy within.

    They don't need your IP address.

    They don't need your website to be plugged into your back office systems.

    They got past your security screening (assuming you do it).

    They're just waiting to get enough information together to make their move.

    As long as people remain ignorant they won't have to wait long.

    Mine's the one with a copy of "The Consultant" in the pocket. It's 30 years old.

  37. Charles Calthrop
    Thumb Up


    Clicks 'Get more from this author'

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Soon to be outsourced...

    "Some of the smartest IT guys on the planet work in investment banks, but looking at the systems they use for risk and compliance you’d think their software had been developed in a joint venture between Capita and Accenture."

    Reading this while sitting opposite an Accenture 'transition team' did make me laugh, but at the same time I was a little bit sick in my mouth...

  39. Lukin Brewer
    Thumb Up

    It's like on that office grafitto...

    If you can do a job right, then it's done. If you can do the same job wrong umpteen times, you'll have job security.

  40. Dele-Himself


    "Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures, the essence of the evolutionary spirit."

  41. Mike Hocker

    Perfect Code

    Spot on. I knew a bloke who wrote darn near perfect error free code. Of course, that meant it was viewed as easy to do and he wasn't going anywhere-- so he eventually left the company.

    A further hint for rogues:

    Good enough quick enough to meet schedules gets you further, even better if all the software is "self documenting" with just a few comments to jog your own memory when inevitable changes or fixes are needed. Never remove dead code. You'll remember it is zombie, but anyone else trying to figure it out will have no idea what the mystery code does and will fear to touch it. Don't update section comments either-- if anyone wonders why the comments don't match the code, it is because of "time pressure" when some change was made, or perhaps an oversight (be apologetic, since whoever is asking obviously has a least a semblance of a clue and is therefore useful and needs to be suborned).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      the worst thing you can do

      If you want to get anywhere in a bank's IT department, is to write perfect code. If it just goes out there, on time, and works without issue, no-one notices it, and you get no credit.

      If you do a piss poor job, and it goes horrifically wrong, losing the company money left right and centre, you get to be the guy seen fixing everything after the shit has hit the fan, and get hailed as a saviour!

      Front office IT can be a great laugh at times. My favourite was when an architect asked a business area "So, you essentially want to replace a custom built distributed IT system, with all of the user control, and infrastructure already in place for thousands of users, with an Excel spreadsheet that someone in your team knocked up over a weekend?" He went off in a huff after getting the answer.

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