From school leaver to sales trader

Published on 15 May 2024

Daniel Burns, equity sales trader at Virtu Financial

Dan Burns talks about his career path from school leaver to sales trader at Virtu Financial, the importance of a diverse skills base on the trading desk, and the value of capacity to learn and to swim in the deep end when starting trading.

He also explains that understanding how much one needs to bring to the role, what can be learned on the desk and the value of support from an employer, are all key elements to fostering talent in the trading team, which can be stressful but also thoroughly enjoyable.

Filmed at FIX EMEA Conference 2024.

Interview Transcript

Dan Barnes, presenter Welcome to Trader TV Generation Trader, where we discuss the importance of diversity on the trading desk. I’m Dan Barnes. With me today is Dan Burns, equity sales trader at Virtual Financial. We’re going to be talking about his career path into the markets. Dan, welcome to the show.

Daniel Burns Thank you very much.

Dan Barnes, presenter So to start with, what sort of training and education did you have before you got into finance at all?

Daniel Burns So I was a school leaver into finance. Finished my A-levels and I was lucky enough that it was 2007. And it was fairly easy to get an entry-level role in finance.

Dan Barnes, presenter Very good. What drew you into financial markets and trading?

Daniel Burns Having left school I took an entry-level role at a small retail brokerage, that was doing client service. But I had some fairly good exposure to sales trading from doing that, and that kind of resonated with me. I could see how my skills and my personality would fit that industry. So that stuck with me during subsequent roles that I took. I spent the longest part of my career on the buy side for seven, eight years in the institutional sales role. But I wanted something a little bit more fast-paced.

Dan Barnes, presenter So from that point in your career, how did you move into an actual trading role and sales trading, and what skills did you have to learn? What skills did you bring with you?

Daniel Burns With my experience prior to that point, being largely client-facing. I was fairly confident in terms of just handling client interaction. Communication skills was certainly a strong point there. And I built up a bigger understanding of the whole front-to-back process from, you know, booking to trade, trading, the reasons why, you know, people are trading as simple as that.

And, so I had a fairly broad understanding of the industry. So I was able to apply that to a trading role rather than just kind of going in and learning, trading without understanding the bigger picture.

Dan Barnes, presenter Yeah. And which bits did you actually have to sort of take on during the process? Because sometimes people think of trading as being so very quantitative these days. But obviously it’s actually very mixed isn’t it.

Daniel Burns For sure. In terms of when I landed in that role, it was, first of all, just getting used to, the pace.

Dan Barnes, presenter Yeah.

Daniel Burns You’ve got to be in quantitative. Quick maths was key, and I hadn’t been required to do that prior to that point. Yeah. So that was certainly a challenge for me, initially. The hours, you know, generally, the first role that I took was working on, an APAC trading desk from London. So working overnight, and there were long hours sleep deprived. Yeah. And again, being in that fast-paced environment, it took adapting to.

Dan Barnes, presenter Well, it sounds really hard.

Daniel Burns It was. It was a challenge. I mean, I was, lucky enough to be thrown in the deep end. So it was essentially trading from day one. Obviously, you know, you start out doing the more basic, smaller trades, and then as you build out your experience, you, you know, you’re given more responsibility. But I definitely think that’s the best way to learn.

Having that thrown in the deep end approach. Not being scared to ask a question. That’s something that’s always stuck with me. And then also being honest with yourself in terms of what your strengths and weaknesses are.

Dan Barnes, presenter Yeah. How have you seen employers help you in the process?

Daniel Burns I’ve been supported by my previous employees. In terms of giving me that responsibility. Yeah. I’m lucky enough to work for a company currently who are fairly lean, but also very entrepreneurial in its mindset. So your ideas are heard. Yeah. And naturally, as a result of that, you get involved in a lot of different things. So I’ve had a good amount of support there.

Dan Barnes, presenter How would you describe the level of diversity you’re seeing on the trading desks today and why it’s changing?

Daniel Burns Yeah, I mean, huge naturally, as technology plays a bigger role in trading, you’re seeing, the need for people with more quantitative, skill sets. Yeah. Basically, to have that balance on the trading desk between, you know, more quantitative-minded people and the people who, you know, have the stronger communication, natural sales skills. Yeah. So there’s no kind of one-size-fits-all all, really. You know, it’s about having a balance of skills and having a desk with a balance of skill sets.

Dan Barnes, presenter If you were to give advice to somebody who’s at school at the moment and looking at a career in trading, what what advice might you give them?

Daniel Burns I would say, given the front office, trading-based roles are few and far between. Especially at entry level. Yeah. Don’t be afraid to be willing to play the long game. Yeah. I’ve seen many good traders, land on the desk, having gone from, you know, back office, middle office type roles. And they sometimes end up being the better traders because they have that bigger understanding of the front-to-back process.

What I would also say as well was, you know, it’s key to build out your network. Yeah. So, so social media plays a big part in that. Now LinkedIn, you know, getting out there to as many seminars as you can, building out your knowledge. And one of the things that I did show a bit of initiative was to do the regulatory exams and the securities exams, the CISI exams. I found them really interesting. Yes, they cost a bit of money, but, you know, it gives you a leg up in terms of other people who haven’t yet done them, and I would definitely recommend doing them.

Dan Barnes, presenter It’s clear that as well as being hard work, this job can be very enjoyable. Do you want to talk about that?

Daniel Burns Yeah. I mean, look, I’m lucky enough that I love the industry that I work in. You know, it’s a fast-paced environment. You’re working with a lot of different personalities. You need a thick skin to a certain degree. And all of that together makes it quite an enjoyable environment for me.

Also the development in the industry. Again, I touched on earlier about how technology is playing a bigger role. I have a strong interest in technology. I’m really looking forward to being part of that transition. Yeah, that we’re seeing currently within the industry.

Dan Barnes, presenter I’d like to thank Dan for his time today, and of course you for watching to catch up on all the shows, including Trader TV this week at 6:45 a.m. UK time every Monday morning go to

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(career path, sales trader, trader, school leaver)