How to stand out from the UAE broker crowd

April 3, 2017 8:00 am

* In 2016, 60 per cent of financial employees expected to move jobs within 12 months

* Employee positivity and mobility partly due to increase in number of brokerage firms

* 65 per cent of employees said they felt ‘positive’ or ‘very positive’ about UAE outlook

Job-hopping is widespread in the UAE region, especially in finance. Last year, global recruiter Hays found 60 per cent of financial employees expected to move jobs within 12 months (Hays Salary and Employment Report 2016, Gulf Cooperation Council). Hays also found that employees were far more positive about the future than their employers.

This employee positivity and mobility is partly due to the increase in the number of brokerage firms, and partly related to the increase in margin trading in the UAE. While all this competition may be good news for the industry it may not be quite so good for you as there’s far more competition between brokers who are hunting for a new employer.

And the HR managers of those employers have more choice than ever before.

So what is the current state of the market – and what does it take to get ahead of the crowd, and stay there?

An employee’s market

It’s very much an employee’s market now. In the same Hays salary report from 2016, 65 per cent of employees said they felt ‘positive’ or ‘very positive’ about the UAE outlook, compared with just 49 per cent of all employers. What’s notable here is that the figure for employers was down some 20 per cent on the previous year.

On the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange (ADX) there’s been an 11 per cent increase in margin trading in the UAE (year-on-year to 2016), bringing the margin trading total to AED 15.2bn (more than 15 per cent of the total buy and sell trading value in that year). In its February 2017 report, ADX also said that 33 out of all 48 brokerage companies that operate in the exchange now offer a margin trading service.

In its Investor Presentation (Q1/2016), the Dubai Financial Market confirmed that accreditation of financial brokerage firms to practice margin trading increased by almost a quarter (23 per cent) in just one year – from 24 (in 2014) to 31 in 2015.

In short, there are increasing numbers of organisations and individuals active in this market. This makes it harder to get noticed as an individual, which could make it harder to build a career in the longer term. So what are the key traits for a successful broker to navigate this landscape? 

Must-have broker traits

Developing the right mindset towards mass market behaviour and staying in tune with the markets are both vital to achieving success as a broker. As the Russian-US professional trader and ‘teacher of traders,’ Alexander Elder, wrote in his book, ‘Trading for a Living: Psychology, Trading Tactics, Money Management’: ‘If your mind is not in gear with the markets, or if you ignore changes in mass psychology of crowds, then you have no chance of making money.’ 

These should both be second nature to good brokers – it’s a volatile profession and being the first to spot a new opportunity can mean the difference between success and failure. Being an early riser and having high energy levels, too, are common broker traits, but these are essentially related to physiology and lifestyle choices. Developing a good nose for risk (and having a deep understanding of it), meanwhile, can only be gained through commitment and experience.

Stand by your reputation

While career progression and reputation building are linked, they are certainly not the same thing. Martin Scorsese’s film ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ was an exploration of the life and career of stockbroker Jordan Belfort. Apart from a Golden Globe for best actor, it also had the unexpected and unintended effect of inspiring people to join the profession; enough for a noticeable rise in interest around financial brokering, reports The Telegraph newspaper.

But the main takeaway from the book (upon which the film was based) was this: the foundation of your success as a broker is your reputation. It was the rampant corruption and fraud which Belfort’s firm, Stratton Oakmont, engaged in on Wall Street that ultimately led to his downfall.

Even if pursuing your own ends can be lucrative for a while, you’re likely to come unstuck at some point. As a broker you will spend a lot of time networking to stay relevant to your clients, your employer and other professionals. As you progress through your career, you will build a growing list of past clients. And word-of-mouth can be a powerful thing, especially in the social media age.

You don’t need to be a saint, but if you’re noticeably sinning, people will remember. Through its blog, Nasdaq advises potential clients to ‘be absolutely certain to read up on a firm before committing’ and to ‘carefully look into the history and public perception’ of it. While not every client will follow this advice, if you have skeletons in your closet, they might just fall out with a clatter.

As Miller and Heiman noted in their book ‘Conceptual Selling’: ‘Almost nobody buys from a person he doesn’t believe can be trusted. No matter what else you do well, if you don’t have credibility with your customers, the rest of it will not be worth a damn.’ 

It’s a sentiment echoed by US investor Warren Buffet who wrote: ‘It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.’

Build solid, honest relationships

As a broker, a slice of what you’re doing is sales – you’re promoting yourself and the company you work for as the best brokerage solution for your clients. Gaining your clients’ trust depends on your reputation as well as on their perception of how straight you’re being with them. This is also especially important if you’re working with clients from diverse backgrounds and situations. As the authors of ‘Sales Management: A Global Perspective’ observed: ‘Honesty crosses cultural borders and, as a value, is appreciated by customers worldwide.’

But you also need to build strong relationships with colleagues, as illustrated by this oft-quoted maxim attributed to the US newspaper and radio commentator Walter Winchell in 1932: ‘Be kind to everyone on the way up; you’ll meet the same people on the way down.’ 

Truly great brokers understand this, but ego can often get in the way. There’s no harm in self-belief; being a professional broker is very entrepreneurial, and believing in your own ability is essential, but the key to success is to stay grounded. If you can control your ego, you will be laying the foundations for your own success as you create a great reputation among clients and colleagues. 

Establish your worth

The life of a broker can feel like a lonely one, but it’s worth giving serious thought to how you can help both your reputation as well as that of your firm. You don’t have to devote all your time to standing out. And, sometimes, demonstrating that you’re prepared to hunker down and work with the team can have positive results.

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The Hays report looked at UAE salary increases in 2015-16, and found that one-third of respondents who received a raise did so by changing jobs. But one-fifth of the respondents who got a raise did it by negotiating a performance-related boost. To achieve that, you will need to show the firm you are adding real value to them, and that this will reflect positively on their relationships with clients.

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It’s true that job-hopping has become common in the UAE. But, while flitting from one business to the next may offer better remuneration, it could rob you of the chance to build that essential credibility you need. Moving too quickly in pursuit of short-term gains, too, can build dissatisfaction if you’re not staying around long enough to be invested in a company, promote its values and establish your worth.

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Mujeeb Rahman
By Mujeeb Rahman
Mujeeb Rahman is a business journalist at AMEinfo. His areas of focus include economy, markets, politics and international relations in MENA and Asia-Pacific regions. An ex-BBC digital journalist, he delves deeper into the subjects that matter most.