Currency traders deal in the ultimate commodity -- cash. They have a quick
eye for fluctuating exchange rates and usually love stress.
"I thrive on the stress," says currency trader Karn Horcher. "There's nothing
better than having a phone in each hand and yelling to the other side of the
room. That's the greatest feeling in the world. I love the adrenaline that
A currency trader buys and sells currency (money). One hour they might
be changing American dollars into Japanese yen; later in the day they might
be working with British pounds or Swiss francs.
Different nations use different currencies, or units of money. Americans
use U.S. dollars, while people in France use the euro. Each currency has a
different value -- American dollars are worth one dollar in America and a
little more in Canada.
People trade currencies for many reasons. Companies and individuals often
have to buy the currency of the country they're doing business with in order
to buy products or services.
Some people even "play" the foreign exchange market -- buying and selling
currencies to make a profit.
A currency trader is the stockbroker of the money market.
The demand for foreign exchange from international corporations, private
individuals, the government, tourists and banks creates an enormous currency
market. And no one knows this better than the traders themselves.
"It's the best market [to trade on] because it's so big and liquid, the
amounts are so large," says Horcher. "I used to trade about $20 or $30 million
at a time. That was the usual amount. It wasn't unusual for me to trade $200
million in a day."
The foreign exchange market is huge, but currency traders have specialized
- Spot traders trade for the immediate foreign exchange market, the
largest and most active market
- Forward traders buy and sell currencies for future delivery
- Currency futures and options traders trade on exchanges, but with
the option that the purchaser doesn't have to buy or sell the currency if
it's not to their advantage
- Corporate traders work for a specific corporation, trading currencies
for the company
- Bank sales traders buy and sell currencies for corporate and institutional
Some traders specialize in one type of currency -- for example, Scandinavian
traders like the Norwegian krone.
This is a demanding, exciting career. If you're interested, remember that
you'll have to remain alert and on top of things. "You need a steady nerve,"
says trader Elliott Dix from Richmond, Virginia. "If you get flustered, this
isn't the job for you. You have to be able to do three things at once."
Currency traders must be aware of what's happening on the world's currency
markets. As a result, those on the West Coast often start their mornings quite
early -- around 4 a.m. -- in order to stay on top of the market. Expect at
least a 50-hour workweek.
Even those in the eastern parts of the country work some pretty unusual
hours to cope with time differences between world markets. "I used to get
up in the middle of the night to watch the market in Tokyo, where it was lunch
time," says Horcher. "It's a great job if you don't mind being up at 3 a.m.
and on the phone."
While there are no physical requirements, currency traders must be able
to cope with the long, unusual hours and high levels of stress.
"There's a high degree of burnout in this job," says veteran trader John
"The stress level is very high. You have to be able to cope with that.
There are no physical requirements, but you have to be quick and outgoing.
When you're dealing with a currency, the rate will move on you 15 seconds
later. You don't see a lot of guys in forex [foreign exchange] who are over
Traders also have to be aware of current events. World affairs can have
a huge impact on the value of currency.
"I was in the office late once, serving our West Coast customers," recalls
Dix. "I had these two computers, one of which had the news on it. I was in
the office when Desert Storm started. All of a sudden, the market started
gyrating. It's always fascinated me to see how people react to things in different
ways. Exchange rates reflect those reactions."