"It felt to me that banks' sales & trading jobs had had their day"
In September 2022, Charlie Roper Ord did what many people consider but few people actually do. In his early 30s, with a young family, he left his comfortable banking job and struck out for the semi-unknown. "It felt like my job on the trading floor of an investment bank had its heyday," says Roper Ord. "I wanted to be part of something that was on the up."
Since graduating from University College London, he'd spent the previous decade working as a sales trader at UBS. "I was trading using the UBS suite of algorithms but was doing it on behalf of clients and acting as the agent, not the principal," says Roper Ord of his career at the Swiss bank. "I found it a bit repetitive. You're at the desk calling clients all day long. It's going to sound pretentious, but I wanted to do something that was a bit more cerebral."
Roper Ord left UBS in November 2021. In September 2022 he started a one-year Master’s degree in environmental technology at Imperial College London. Midway through the course, he's already begun working for Treeconomy, a firm founded by alumni, which aims to encourage investment in the natural world by, for example, connecting owners of forests with companies that want to buy carbon offsets.
While equities sales and trading jobs are being superannuated by electronic trading technologies, Roper Ord says investing in natural capital is only just beginning. "It felt like climate change is the great challenge of our generation, and I wanted to be part of the search for a solution. This is a confluence of something that's exciting, a great opportunity and also worthwhile. In sales and trading, it was never clear who my job benefited."
A decade as an equities sales trader did, however, give Roper Ord the financial underpinning to go back to studying. "It was a huge risk with young children and a mortgage, but it seemed that this was the time to do it while I was still young. I'd been well paid over the years and hadn't really spent my bonuses," he says. "I had savings, and I thought that this was what saving is for."
There were lifestyle downsides to finance too. Some of the legends in sales and trading are out every night partying with clients who've become their friends: "You're in your 50s and you've been having four hours' sleep for years," says Roper Ord. "I never wanted to do that. When I was up at 5.30am, I wanted to go to the gym after work and see my wife."
Nor did the trinkets like Ferraris and holiday homes appeal. "It's not a criticism, but it just didn't resonate with me," says Roper Ord of the lifestyle of some MDs. "I wanted to spend more time with my friends and family."
As a student, he now has that opportunity. Based out of his home in South London, Roper Ord is writing his thesis on the potential for agro forestry - growing trees that are also food. "I am not gluing myself to the road," he says of his new environmental purpose. "But I'd be lying if I didn't say that climate change worries me."
Next time he graduates, he'd like to work for a natural capital investment fund, in which mechanisms like carbon credits are used to pay for the preservation of nature. "It's a burgeoning marketplace and nascent career," says Roper Ord. "There's a huge amount of money waiting to go into it."
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