‘Commodity’, ‘trader’ and ‘broker’
First of all we should define the ‘commodities’ part. A commodity in economic terms is a good or product interchangeable with any other of its type, so that while quality may vary slightly there is a set price per unit, and a basic standard (called the ‘basic grade’) that must be met by all producers. Oil is perhaps the most well-known commodity – a barrel of oil is the same price no matter where it is produced.
There is then the difference between a trader and a broker. These terms are often used interchangeably, whereas, while they often work together, their roles are completely different. The skills they require and what kind of career path each can expect intersect, but also have important differences.
A commodities trader buys and sells commodities for their own profit or loss. A commodities broker executes orders to buy or sell commodities contract on behalf of clients, and makes money through commissions. The difference is occasionally explained as being the same as a player and a referee, with the trader buying and selling and the broker facilitating and overseeing the transaction.
Becoming a commodities trader
There are several routes that might lead become a commodities trader. It is not in fact necessary to have a degree, although finding an entry level job will be easier with one (and degrees that demonstrate mathematical and analytical aptitude are particularly desirable).
Many traders start off finding a job in the trading arm of a larger institution like an investment bank or a major corporation, often starting their journey through an internship. Working with professionals in a large-scale trading environment provides essential experience, and along the way you will gain the professional qualifications necessary to become a fully operational trader. (Commodities trading is a regulated profession, so you will need to obtain recognised qualification from the Financial Conduct Authority’s appropriate qualifications list.) Keeping up with these qualifications is necessary to continue trading, so some knowledge of the laws and regulations surrounding the profession will be useful both while working and while job-hunting.
If you’re interested in commodity trading in the UK, it will be helpful to look up the Financial Conduct Authority, the Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment, and the Chartered Finance Association.
Becoming a commodities broker
Different commodities have different rules and regulations and therefore require slightly different career paths. Securities like shares or derivatives are regulated, meaning there are more barriers to entry. Acting as a broker for something like physical gold (as opposed to gold futures, for example) does not require regulation, and so for applicants with the right natural aptitude this route can be an easier way to find success.
Good degrees for commodities brokers include Law, Business Studies and Marketing, but more important is to have natural ability in sales, with an interest in current affairs, and the quickness to quickly grasp complex financial concepts.
The most pertinent information for many thinking about a career in commodities will be starting salaries. Traders can expect to get salaries and possible bonuses of £50k in the first year. Brokers can also expect £50k, from salary and commission. Both jobs require a lot of work, and you can safely expect to be doing weeks that are more than the normal forty hours. The lower earnings limit for traders is possibly higher, but the upper limit for a broker might be said to be higher – in fact in terms of salary there is not much between them.
It’s often confusing hearing people discuss being a commodities broker or trader – often thought of as being the same or similar, their roles are quite different and an individual will not be fully suited to both. As a student interested in these professions, your degree subject may alert you to which you’re better suited to, although other skills and interests are often more important than what you’re studying for right now.
Josh Saul is the founder and managing director of physical gold brokerage The Pure Gold Company. Having originally studied law, he has more than 10 years experience in commodities trading and brokering.