Outplacement firm's simulation rescues traders from cold turkey

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However, help is at hand to ease the transition to a more humble and lonely life away from the trading floor.

Alfie Noakes, chairman and founder of the London outplacement company Mark to Market (M2M), says: 'We offer a form of rehabilitation.'

Traders doing cold turkey are placed by M2M in an environment where flickering screens, telephones, news from Bloomberg and the presence of like-minded souls serve to simulate the lost trading floor.

Noakes says: 'What we have is as similar as you can get to a dealing room without having a licence. If you've been dealing in the market for 10 years, it's like a drug. You have to come down off it.'

He speaks from experience. A bond dealer for 20 years, he was made redundant in 1990 and found himself stuck in a pokey booth in a West End outplacement firm with only a telephone for company.

As an outplacement provider, one of M2M's chief aims is, of course, to help clients find another job. But its role in helping them come to terms with the loss of their old one seems just as important.

Business psychologist Chris Kiddy, of Kiddy and Partners, confirms that for those used to the hustle of the trading floor, the sudden change could come as a blow. Trading, he points out, is a demanding occupation and the emotional pressure is intense. Sudden disruption is best avoided and a gradual change is preferable.

Redundant traders at M2M seem to agree. One said: 'The buzzy atmosphere is definitely important. It's like Men Behaving Badly. It gets me coming here every day. Without it I'd probably tend to mope around and play golf.'

But for the sacked bond, derivatives and other traders enjoying the fun in the artificial dealing room, M2M's screens are more than just a reassuring presence. By providing information, they also fulfil an important practical function.

An ex-trader from one of the large German banks says: 'If you speak to anyone in the markets, they talk about prices and news, and if you don't have access to them you can't hold a real conversation. Because I know what's going on, people think at first that I must be working and that I'm looking for a job while I'm still employed.'

This feeling of still being involved might also help people perform better in interviews. One group of traders, according to M2M, were hired as a team from its 'floor' even though they had never previously worked together.

A number of M2M staff, as well as Noakes, are former traders. One client said: 'I wouldn't want to go to a place that doesn't specialise in what I do. I don't want some sort of self-opinionated twat talking to me about something that they know nothing about.'

Firms using M2M have included Commerzbank, New Japan Securities, HSBC, Investec, Industrial Bank of Japan and Prebon Marshall Yamane.

If the economic slowdown continues, then outplacement companies may well have more work to do. Noakes expects 'some culling' of traders in the coming year and adds that M2M has plans to increase capacity from seating 50 redundant clients to 150 in the coming months.

But no amount of outplacement seems likely to secure new trading jobs for many of those made redundant. M2M acknowledges that already the best hope of a new position for many older traders is with an IT firm that makes related software.

As far as the simulation goes, rising numbers of 'traders' could be a good thing. The former trader from the German bank says: 'If this place were three times as big then you would just get a much better atmosphere. These days you can be working in a trading room with 400 others, so more people would be a better representation of reality.'

Asked whether simulation might be appropriate for other areas of investment banking, Noakes is sceptical. Reconstituted corporate finance or M&A floors do not form part of his plans. 'The turnover of dealers is much greater than other areas. The average lifespan of a City of London trader (in one job) is only two-and-a-half years. This makes them particularly suited to a dedicated outplacement service,' he says.

He does, however, divulge an interest in moving into outplacement for airline pilots. But flight simulators are not on the agenda.

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