Brexit Day: What really went down – besides the pound

Witnessing Brexit from the front lines of Nordea Markets was an early career highlight for two graduates

Witnessing Brexit from the front lines of Nordea Markets was an early career highlight for two graduates like us, Linh Nguyen and Ben Schenkel. Here is what we experienced and learned on that hectic day – which we’ll probably always remember

When we went home last Thursday evening, we expected that our next day at work would be even more intense than usual. But neither of us saw the lightning bolt approaching that was Brexit, which delivered a large and sudden shock to financial markets.

The evening before was the Sankt Hans festival for those of us based in Copenhagen. To be honest, we might have been paying more attention to the heavy rain spoiling the celebration than to the possibility that a majority of UK voters would choose to leave the European Union. Going to bed, we did not imagine the extreme reactions that were about to unfold.

If you were on the Nordea trading floor as early as dawn, you could feel the thick suspense and the pulsating atmosphere. By the time we woke up and feverishly checked the news, the unexpected Brexit vote had already sent shockwaves on the other side of the world. We arrived at the office nervous but excited about the history we would witness next. All of Markets was buzzing with an energy we had never quite felt before, having started as graduates last fall.

Very kindly of Nordea management, we were all treated to breakfast before the market opened. (Getting to work earlier than 7 a.m. was no problem for us, given all the fascinating volatility on display.)

As we took our first bites, gathered as one Nordea team in the heart of the trading floor, the leaders of each trading unit offered their views on the dramatic situation taking shape. And on a day like this, you couldn’t help thinking about the market moves after the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers!

Following that special meeting, we returned to our desks with little idea how the day was going to play out. Would our positions at Nordea give us an up-close view of financial chaos destined for the record books? How would we handle the pressure—being fairly new to the market—and process the uncertainty in front of us?

During the next couple of hours, you could not avoid hearing the traders yell out numbers or the key word “DONE.” On any other day, they would probably rely on the intercom or trader phones rather than the power of their lungs. After Brexit, however, communication had to be extra fast. Because the speed of sound is much faster than finding the correct phone number, this was the preferred way to communicate. Under volatile conditions like this, time really does equal money. Prices can evaporate just like that.

By the time the free pizza arrived for lunch, the initial damage caused by Brexit appeared to be wearing off. Even from our vantage point in currency trading, it generally looked like the hard-hit assets were going into correction mode while still fluctuating a great deal. In other words, their prices were in the process of turning around and recovering from their steep decline.

Whether or not Brexit turns out to be an era-defining event, we’ve taken away some key career lessons from being directly exposed to it. We noted how our colleagues kept their cool, did not hesitate in communicating, and fulfilled their duties toward Nordea’s customers. Not to mention we’ll be more careful about preparing for worst-case scenarios before they break out.

With all the unknown factors left in the markets, we won’t go so far as to conclude that the Brexit storm has lifted for good. A whole lot still needs to happen politically. But we do know that we’ll think back to our colleagues’ professional example whenever we face the next “lightning round” in the markets. It will be inevitable in our careers. Until then, we’ll do our best to keep up the energy level and cooperation that inspired us on Brexit Day.

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