How to reframe online trading into a game

May 12, 2010

Those who seem best able to reframe trading into more of a game to be won or lost, without getting so caught up in the fear or greed attached to money, come in a few different forms.

One group that appears to be successful at going beyond overconcern with actual dollar amounts are institutional money managers, trading large blocks of stock for mutual funds and other accounts. This group would include all those professionals who trade for their own account as well as institutional accounts; floor traders; market makers; and specialists.

Professionals who daily trade tremendous amounts of money know how to pull the trigger without a lot of apprehension. If they don’t, they simply won’t last doing this kind of work. They get comfortable with the rhythms of the market and learn to trust their instincts so that they may “play the market rather than the market playing them.”

These money managers trading for large funds are usually not risking their own capital. If they lose a few hundred thousand dollars in a bad trade, it is not coming from their own personal accounts.

But they are, ultimately, risking their jobs. Since receiving bonuses based on performance is a significant part of their income, the trades they make have consequences.

A second group are young day traders in their twenties who are capitalized by others and who wear golf caps that read, “No Fear.” They may be found in trading firms as well as on their own trading from home. Because they have usually not had to work to earn the capital they are risking, they are not afraid to jump head first into trading with large share lots on the line. These traders attack the market and electronic trading with a vengeance, taking no prisoners in their efforts to win the game.

Having grown up on a diet of video games, they seem poised at transferring the gaming mentality to the serious game of electronic trading. The technical aspects of learning to push the right keys and understanding how to interpret the data coming at them is not threatening to them, as it is for those not so conversant with computers. They love the action and enjoy the adrenaline rush that trading provides.

Some of this contingent are likely to be found among the ranks of the rather small group of microtraders, who hyperactively trade dozens of times per hour, at the extreme racking up between 500 and 800 trades per day.

A third group that seems to have an easier time of it are those who are already independently wealthy. I’m not referring to all the midlife baby boomers of my generation who can handle a loss of $25,000 to $50,000 of capital without jumping off a bridge. I’m talking about really wealthy people who don’t need to worry about anything related to money. They know they can lose a chunk of their investing capital and not have it adversely affect their lifestyle or future security. They can let go of $100,000 in the way I let go of $100.

Most of these people have traditionally put their money in the hands of professional money managers. But the convenience and thrill of online investing has now piqued the interest of some to test their own stock-picking skills. They are more able than the average investor to adopt a spirit of play and excitement, where the score-keeping aspect of the game is incidental.

For example, we learn that Barbra Streisand butters up the head honchos of a hot technology company on the eve of its initial public offering. She wants to get some shares at the offering price. She says, “pretty please,” sending congratulatory flowers and six bottles of champagne for the coming-out party. And, of course, she gets her shares. Who’s going to say no to her?

Does Barbra Streisand really need to go through this dance just to be allocated a few hundred shares of a hot IPO so she can make a fast profit? Of course not – she doesn’t need the money. But the word is that she has done very well with her investments – not hard to believe if she is able to capitalize on a few juicy IPOs.

So, there must be another motive besides the money. Perhaps it’s feeling like a savvy “player” who knows what’s worth getting in on. The financial payoff is obviously secondary to receiving the special treatment accorded a celebrity and being in the game. Here we see one of the associated meanings of money in play.