When you come to a fork in the road, take it – Extended Future Finance Professional program

Listen to Kalle Heiska talk about his experience being part of the EFFP program

My fellow EFFP partner in crime Minna wrote previously about her experience in the Nordea’s EFFP program with a horizontal approach across different products lines. Now I’m sharing my experience with a vertical approach, acquiring somewhat in-depth knowledge in investment products by wandering around sales, structuring and trading departments in the Nordics.

My career in FICC (Fixed Income, Currencies & Commodities) started in 2013 via the Future Financial Professional (FFP) program in Asset Structuring team in Nordea Markets Finland. In the complex world of structured products, Asset Structuring provided an excellent vantage point for a starting professional. In addition to the interesting products, working with the best sales managers was one of the greatest things in the job.

The process of choosing a career path can be slightly random. And to be completely honest, at the start of my “sneak peak to FICC” my plan was to continue back to Investment Banking / Mergers and Acquisitions where I had positive experiences as an analyst trainee. But as soon as I heard from the EFFP program I knew that FICC is the right path for me, since I personally believe that having a steep learning curve is one of the most important things in career. After one year in Asset Structuring I had the chance to take a leap forwards with the EFFP program. Structured Equity Derivatives Trading (SEDT) seemed like a suitable team for expanding my skillset.

Defining a job in “exotic trading desk” isn’t perhaps one of the easiest things, even if you have worked in one. And at that point I had no clue. I only knew that it cannot be the simplest nor the easiest job imaginable. If my first day in 2013 wasn’t promising enough, being April fool’s day and a bank holiday, my second job in FICC seemed to have even more better start. My future boss gave me clear instructions how to prepare myself for the job: “Nassim Taleb’s Dynamic Hedging is kind of a major book, but most likely you have already read it, so all you need is a set of spare boxer shorts and fresh liver“.

Perhaps I thought that the spare boxers and fresh liver is enough, but such thing as living arrangement didn’t even cross my mind when proceeding towards the job in Copenhagen. Clearly ahead of me, HR had arranged an apartment close to Copenhagen’s dealing room. And by that I don’t mean (just) Christiania, even though it’s hard to find disparities between the dealers and their market practices. Working in Structured Equity Derivatives Trading took the complexity and, even more importantly, my learning curve to another level. I ended up doing things like correlation swaps shortly after starting. Actually pricing and closing exotic derivatives myself made me realize how little I knew before about risk and the products.

One thing specially worth mentioning about the stay in SEDT is ownership. Every firm has these company values, which usually no-one remembers, but while working in SEDT I had a great lesson about an ownership. The whole team operated like one big, a bit strange, family and everything was done with a shared goal of constant improvement. It was like everyone was working for some greater good, as if we were members of a strange cult. Now looking at it, “strange cult” describes people working with structured products quite well, as Hunter S. Thompson put it: When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.

As I returned to Markets Finland, I was again extremely lucky with the rotation choice: Cross Asset Sales. Cross Asset’s main objective is to provide trades across asset classes for large institutions. It was an excellent chance to soak in the knowledge from these brilliant minds in the team and expand my horizon from the equities. In the Cross Asset Sales I was finally baptised in the holy name of Positive Carry.

Similar to SEDT, the members of Cross Asset had inextinguishable interest towards the things they did, and the interest clearly manifested itself in the quality of their work. I still feel that it was a huge privilege for me to work in these teams and with these people; it’s seldom that someone has such chances in the early phases of their career. Working with these guys made me also realize how I want to see myself in the future: maintaining a genuine interest and drive towards the things I do. It is also worth mentioning that I had the great privilege to have the same department head for my whole stay in the Finnish organisation, which was a great advantage since he has been supportive and honest through my career in FICC.

In the latter part of 2015 it was time to think about the possibility of next rotation, and Structured Product Execution (SPE) was the first choice. SPE is in charge of the structured product itself and hedging the structured product sold to clients. At first there was just a discussion between the current and possible future department head about the rotation. But it became clear quite quickly that they would like to hire me permanently to SPE. Decision was easy to make since I had already been working with SPE team in my previous teams in sales and trading organisations. And also SPE knew what problems they were getting into. Within few weeks I was already moving from Nordea Finland to Nordea Sweden, Stockholm to my 5th position in Nordea, 4th in FICC. Starting in a global team in Stockholm was surprisingly smooth, but taking account that I had previously worked in Helsinki and Copenhagen and knew already most of the relevant shareholders, it wasn’t a miracle.

– Kalle Heiska

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