Megan Philbin, a senior corporate bond trader at Barclays, says a knack for shopping, a love of sports and having at least one brother can give any woman a serious edge on Wall Street. As one of relatively few women on the Street trading investment grade credit, Megan knows what it takes to succeed in the highly competitive industry. While she admits that at first her position “seemed intimidating,” it didn’t take long for her to thrive in the dynamic, ever-changing world of financial services.
Fifteen years and lots of smart trades later, Megan is not only dedicated to her clients, but fiercely committed to attracting more female talent to Wall Street. A 2015 inductee to the YWCA of New York City’s Academy of Women leaders, a good portion of her time is spent mentoring and recruiting top female talent.
“We need more women on the front lines telling their stories,” says Megan. “[This job] taps into their natural skill sets.”
Did you always know you wanted to work on Wall Street? What was your first professional job out of college?
In a way, yes. I had always been fascinated with office environments, from the time I was a little girl going to visit my aunt at her brokerage firm in Boston or helping out in my dad’s law practice. As such, I studied business and majored in Finance during college, but I still didn’t specifically know what I wanted to do. When I was in college, Wall Street hired very differently than we do today. These days, it is common for sophomores to have internships, whereas I found my job in my senior year, largely through process of elimination.
My first job after college was at Lehman Brothers as part of the analyst program in the Finance division. During the two-year program, we rotated every eight months to three different groups under the CFO umbrella, which for me was a fantastic way to figure out how an investment bank worked and how my strengths/skills may best be used.
What has been your career path from this first job to your current role at Barclays?
During my second rotation of the analyst program, I was working in a group that was responsible for the financial analysis of the corporate bond trading desk – revenue reporting, budgets, risk limits, etc. I began to realize that while I worked at an investment bank, my current role was from the outside looking in, and much of what I did mainly focused on what had happened in the past. As part of my position, I was spending more time in meetings on the trading floor and getting to know many of the traders and managers in the credit business. An environment which had seemed intimidating and confusing just a year or so earlier during my job search had begun to feel comfortable, and I could see myself thriving in the dynamic setting. After three years at Lehman Brothers in the finance division, there was mutual interest and an opportunity for me to move to the investment grade credit trading desk, which is where I have been for the past 12 years.
What does a typical day-in-the-life for you involve? What responsibilities do you have in your role as a corporate bond trader?
I spend my days liaising between various institutional clients of Barclays (asset managers, insurance companies, hedge funds, etc). Much of my communication is done directly with customers (traders, portfolio managers, research analysts) either over the phone or via messaging services, but many times there is a salesperson also involved as an intermediary. We help facilitate needs for clients who are looking to buy or sell various positions of their investment portfolio.
Each day we juggle new situations, which clients present in addition to managing the existing positions we have on our books. I am responsible for being an expert in my trading sectors, which currently include Insurance, non-bank Financials, & REITS; this involves working closely with my partners in research to understand what our view is on the credits I’m covering, having deep knowledge of what customers needs currently may be and anticipating what future needs may arise. Think of Barclays like a store – it is my job to price our positions (i.e. the inventory) appropriately and offer superb customer service such that the investors choose to make a purchase from Barclays as opposed to our competitors on the Street. We also want them to come back to shop with me/us again and again.
How do you organize your day?
One of the things I enjoy most about my job is that no one day is exactly the same. We have to be ready for any news or activity that could influence the market and which could steer it in one direction or another. The mornings involve a bit of a routine – we have a daily meeting for sales, trading and research, and then traders spend time updating trading levels and formulating their strategy for the day – but for the most part we have a good amount of flexibility where we choose to focus our time. Traders tend to be very efficient people, so the meetings I do have during the day are usually not too long.
I spend quite a bit of time on leadership and recruiting initiatives, but that is not necessarily every day and many times are during after-market hours. We spend a fair amount of time meeting with clients outside of daily business hours, so there are some weeks where I will be out one to two nights for a dinner, or sometimes on the road visiting clients in various cities in the U.S. and even Europe.
What is your favorite part of working for Barclays? What is the culture like?
I would definitely say the people. While this may sound like a generalization or a bit cliché, in my job, it is all about relationships. A trading floor is extremely dynamic and can be a very exciting place to work for a variety of reasons, but it offers almost zero privacy. By sitting inches from your co-workers, you hear everything – whether it is business or personal – for at least 10 hours a day. And as I mentioned earlier, we also spend quite a bit of time together outside of the office. If I didn’t truly enjoy and respect my colleagues as friends or feel they pushed me to excel, I would not be nearly as happy in my job.
What is a challenge facing your industry right now that keeps your mind turning at night?
I’m not sure this keeps me up at night, but Wall Street continues to evolve and has changed quite a bit since I began my career. Much of this is beyond our control, and one of the things we’re really focused on is how we continue to attract, and more importantly retain, talent at a young age. Wall Street firms used to present one of the best opportunities for college students for a variety of reasons and now we face very tough competition from other industries for the same pool of graduates. So we have to think creatively about how we appeal to the new generation. Although I shouldn’t, I sometimes take it personally when young employees choose to leave the firm for another opportunity 2 to 3 years out of college.
What does it feel like for you being a woman in a male-dominated industry? What challenges and/or opportunities has this created for you?
I get asked this question a lot, and to be honest, I don’t even think about it anymore. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve gone to a dinner, conference or golf outing and have been the only woman. But I’m sure my answer would have been a lot different if you had asked me this question 10 to 12 years ago. I will say it does help if you like sports and had at least one brother growing up.
I have been lucky to always work for and with men who I have considered to be good husbands, fathers, brothers, etc., and have treated me as some sort of a combination between a sister and a daughter. Men tend to be better at self-promotion and asking for more responsibility than women, which is something I am trying to work on myself.
Perhaps it is because we share a minority gender bond, but the friendships and relationships I have formed over the years with female colleagues and clients have been extremely beneficial, both personally and professionally. I try to spend as much time as I can mentoring and facilitating networking for young women at the firm. There are so many more resources available to women today than when I began my career. I think I had already been at Lehman Brothers for at least five years before the firm launched its first women’s network. Today, we host several women’s events before and during the summer internship helping young analysts feel the support they will have at Barclays. These efforts are incredibly rewarding to me on a personal level.
How do you feel we can get more women involved in Wall Street careers?
We need more women on the frontlines telling their stories. But we also need to know how to market Wall Street and its various jobs appropriately to women. When I was in college, I never even considered a career in trading. I thought it was a job that was very quantitative, would not allow me to get out of my seat all day, and was exclusively for men. Quite likely, I was making assumptions based on a few 1980s movies or books I had seen or read. We need to find a way to make this job sound appealing to women because it taps into their natural skill sets.
Women are incredibly analytical and detail-oriented, and excellent decision makers. Further, to go back to an analogy I made earlier, they are fantastic shoppers. I don’t know a woman who makes an expensive purchase without having figured out exactly how much the same shoes, bag or plane ticket costs at three other stores/websites. Working as a trader, market and product awareness is central to my job, and ultimately we weigh a variety of factors and make a decision to buy or sell at a certain price.
As I said earlier, Wall Street is having a harder time hiring out of colleges – regardless of gender. We shouldn’t make it harder on ourselves by using the same tactics to recruit men as we do to attract women. Very few marketing firms advertise products in a gender neutral way. Have you ever seen the commercials that are run during Sunday NFL games or a PGA tournament? They aren’t exactly targeting women.
What is an aspect of your job that would surprise our readers?
Probably that I use an old school calculator with jumbo keys to do most of my math! One misconception is that you need to be very quantitative to do this job. I would say you need to be comfortable with math and numbers, but by no means am I overly quantitative.
What are some of your go-to resources for both work and your personal life?
Post-it notes! I am constantly making to-do lists both at the office and at home. I need to be very efficient with my free time, and for some reason I find it extremely gratifying to cross something off an old-school list.
What qualities do you look for when building out your team? What skills can our readers hone to be the kind of employee a boss wants to promote?
When we hire someone out of college to join our team, we aren’t expecting them to know anything about trading corporate bonds. We are looking for a well-rounded team player who has superb attention to detail and will be able to multi-task in a high pressure environment. He or she needs to be competitive, confident, be able to remain calm, and be a very good communicator. Everyone makes mistakes and we want to see junior traders identify, admit and learn from their mistakes; it is often how someone comports themselves in a choppy situation which becomes a standout quality.
If you could share any piece of advice with our readers that you’ve learned in your career, what would that be?
Even if you find yourself in a job you don’t love or see yourself doing for your whole career, there is always something to be learned from each stop along the way. Keep your head down, do a good job and earn the respect and support of your boss and team. That said, don’t be afraid to let others know where your ultimate interests may lie. Through casual conversation and informal networking, you could open up doors to your next opportunity. Additionally, many times you have to take a step backward in the short term to ultimately find yourself in a much better position longer term. Don’t be afraid to take a risk.
What advice do you have for a reader who wants your job?
Knowing that many people rarely begin their careers where they ultimately end it, try to focus on getting your foot in the door at a firm where there are many opportunities to move roles, both functionally and geographically, regardless of how far out of school you may be. I encourage everyone to get to know as many people as they can in many different areas of their firms, and keep an open mind when it comes to your next career step. You may find yourself in a position you never would have considered and very happy you took the chance.
Person I’d love to grab coffee with:
I should probably say something more professional, but the honest answer is Bradley Cooper!
I can’t live without:
My favorite way to unwind is:
A workout and a quiet night on my couch.
I feel my best when:
I’ve had a good night’s sleep.