International Women’s Day: Women in Finance

I couldn’t decide between economics and maths when I applied to university. Instead, I did both at Warwick’s MMORSE course (maths, operational research, statistics and economics), then ended up with a degree issued by neither the maths nor economics department, but in statistics. Like many, if not most, freshman students, I didn’t know what I wanted to do post-study and it wasn’t until after I’d graduated four years later that I solidified a career direction I wanted to pursue.

My first internship was at an insurance company, building statistical pricing models. At the time, the level of statistics I was expected to use at work was lagging behind the level I had learnt at university, so I was left in the interesting position of application pre-theory. While I decided at the time that I didn’t want to pursue a path in insurance, I enjoyed the coding aspects and the application of stats in my work and knew this was something I could build on.

My first foray into trading was as an intern at a market maker round the corner from Liverpool Street, where I was first introduced to traditional financial markets, as well as the gem that is Spitalfields markets. As a statistician by learning, R was my native language, but for coding trading strategies, Python was a more suitable language, so I very quickly had to familiarize myself with it. The trading firm had both manual traders and a growing algorithmic trading desk, which I ended up favouring, mostly because of its application of coding and stats, which I was looking for in a career. At the time I made a throwaway comment when asking about the asset classes they traded, “what about crypto?” A laugh, no, too risky, was the reply. At the time, crypto was an infant asset class, one that was only starting to grow in popularity and adoption, but the reigning view was that it wasn’t mainstream or proper enough for a lot of financial institutions (a view that has been rapidly changing since then).

Upon graduation the following year, I had the opportunity to intern with what was at the time a crypto market making startup that has since expanded quite considerably, demonstrating not only their own admirable prowess in the field but the expansion of the field itself. It was there that I first really started to learn about decentralized finance and how extensive it was. I’d already decided I wanted to be a trader, now I’d found what I wanted to trade.

After my two month internship, I was offered a role with another crypto market maker, although this time the role was fully remote, which I admittedly struggled with. I am a great believer in learning via osmosis, which is difficult when your colleagues work on a different landmass. Especially since this was during the depth of the pandemic, isolation was a constant threat.

I started being contacted by a number of recruiters advertising roles at various existing crypto firms, but it wasn’t until I was approached with the opening at Maven’s new DA team that I found a role that really jumped out for me. Since the team was new, it meant I would be there very early on in the desk’s lifecycle and play a part in its evolution. It was advertised as a team with a startup feel, but an institutional backing. In the short time I have had here, I feel happy that I’m in an environment that rewards hard work and perseverance which means I feel suitably challenged and proud of the work I do and the people I work with.

What I find most exciting about crypto is its ever-changing landscape. Satoshi’s whitepaper for Bitcoin was published in 2008. Now it’s the world’s biggest cryptocurrency, trading at $43k at the time of writing. (Crypto is admittedly infamously volatile). Dogecoin was introduced as a satirical meme coin spinoff of Bitcoin, whose inventor had no intention or idea of its eventual rise as one of the most recognizable and famous cryptocurrencies. Vitalik’s Ethereum, the silver to Bitcoin’s gold, launched in 2015, was the first blockchain to introduce the concept of smart contracts. Then came a handful of affectionately dubbed “Ethereum killer” projects who each have innovative ways of improving Ethereum’s smart contract idea, making it faster, cheaper, more energy-efficient.

Only very recently has decentralized finance started to gain recognition from more traditional financial institutions. It’s also innately accessible to mainstream retail consumers (relatively speaking, a basic understanding of blockchains and MetaMask goes a long way), in a way that traditional finance isn’t. Chances are that you know someone, perhaps even you, who holds some digital assets themselves. With some basic knowledge of Python, anyone can connect to an exchange via API and build a simple automated trading bot. When I was a freshman 5 years ago, bitcoin hovered around the $1k mark, Binance (the world’s largest crypto exchange) hadn’t been founded and the combined total market cap of all cryptocurrencies was measured in the billions. Now that number is comfortably in the trillions. In five years, who knows where crypto goes?

My advice to those seeking to enter the digital asset space is to do some background reading to know what you’re getting into. Get a baseline understanding of blockchains and smart contracts. The space is highly extensive and there’s bound to be a project that triggers a particular interest, whether that’s NFTs, the metaverse, liquidity staking, tokenized assets, football fan tokens, DAOs (decentralized autonomous organizations, there’s one that tried to buy an original copy of the US constitution whose token logo is, obviously, Nicolas Cage from National Treasure) etc…

Up until this point, the way I have recalled my career path has not been suggestive or indicative of any gender. But since this piece is in honour and recognition of International Women’s Day, I will add some comments specific to my career journey from a feminine perspective:

I tend to gravitate towards subjects typically and traditionally dominated by the boys, mathematics, computer science, martial arts, trading, even crypto. In some respects, it made recognition a little easier, women’s maths prizes were hardly an accolade if there were hardly any girls in your class. Medals felt guaranteed rather than earned when there were regularly fewer participants than available medals as was often the case in some competitions I’d attended due to the lack of female entries. In other areas, you can feel quite lonely. I can recall every assessment day I’ve attended where I have been the only female participant. Sometimes I ask about the gender ratio of applicants, which makes for some interesting statistics (one place told me out of the roughly thousand applicants they received, I was one of the only two female applicants).

At Maven, like every other trading floor I’ve encountered, the gender balance is skewed towards men. However, I have never felt this used or judged against me. I am recognized for my knowledge and skill, like everyone else here. We’re valued for what we do, not who we are. For women going into, or thinking about, a career in trading or crypto, it’s understandable to feel a little intimidated, but I hope my account shows that it is possible to enter the industry and thrive. Crypto is just fascinating as a subject and trading is a very fast-paced and rewarding industry. I encourage anyone looking for such a career to consider trading, and Maven is a great place to learn

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