Thursday, December 18, 2008

Joining a Proprietary (Prop) Trading Firm: Should I Pay to Play?

In the last few weeks, I've received an increased number of emails from traders interested in joining proprietary trading firms. This is particularly the case, given the growing number of prop firms that are offering training programs for their traders. For those considering joining prop firms, I recommend you review the posts on training at prop firms and prop firms, arcades, and scams. Both posts offer a few things to look for and think about when you investigate various firms.

In Illinois, where I live, we're all too familiar with "pay-to-play", thanks to allegations surrounding our governor. I'm skeptical as well of pay-to-play models of proprietary trading: models in which you must pay hefty training fees to begin trading small amounts of capital for the firm. It's not that the model can't be executed professionally and responsibly; I think there are firms accomplishing just that. But it's a model that is ripe for abuse, as what are really schools for traders can masquerade as prop firms by doling out small amounts of capital and then shutting down traders before they lose as much money as they poured into training.

This is especially the case for firms that train traders to trade very actively ("scalping"), but make money from commissions charged per trade. By starting traders out with a small stake, the traders will be very likely to lose their money in commissions during their learning curve, so that what the firm gives in capital with one hand, it can take back with the other in commissions and other "desk" fees.

So please engage in due diligence before sinking time, money, and effort into a proprietary trading firm. There are some very good, very professional ones out there, but with the growth of pay-to-play models, there will be some snakes in the grass, as well.