The Inner Workings of an Investment Platform – What Does a Trading Desk Do?

Stephen Cowan
March 17, 2022
Trading desk screen for an investment platform

Expectation vs Reality 

Ticker tapes rolling, multiple screens flashing red and green numbers, well-groomed men in pinstriped suits holding a phone in each hand shouting “SELL!” down one and “BUY!” down another — isn’t this a trading desk? 

Hollywood is known to take some liberties with the truth, and most of these stereotypes about the inner workings of a stock exchange are indeed based on historical accuracies, but the modern trader is a far cry from the adrenaline fuelled, pushy salesman, portrayed on the big screen. 

I’ve spent over ten years within investments, from dealing in a life assurance company, to a private bank, and now on Capital International Group’s trading desk. The work within this time was often, in one form or another, simply data processing: receiving a client instruction, verifying the details, inputting a transaction, before sending the order on its merry way to someone further down the chain.  

This might sound somewhat monotonous, but a trading desk can in fact be a very exciting, niche corner of the investment world to work in. It comes at the end of the trade lifecycle, the physical placement of an order into a global market relies on negotiating prices and tackling algorithmic problems to get the best results for the client.  It requires immense concentration as any slip of a keyboard, or mistype in the calculator, could instantly result in financial turmoil. 


Modern society is so frequently (and probably tediously) judged as two separate entities: ‘before’ and ‘after’ the Covid-19 pandemic. This distinction is however likely stark for anyone working on a trading desk and the impact of pandemic on Capital International Group as an investment platform provider cannot be understated.   

I joined the company in October 2019. “The Desk” as it was then, consisted of two very experienced traders who, while handling an average daily order volume of approximately 90 deals, were also placing foreign exchanges, authorising work for other areas and nurturing burgeoning client relationships. They used extreme skill to execute trades quickly but with maximum customer focus, ensuring what set us apart from the online stock brokerage firms and investment apps available to clients, was the level of customer service they received when they chose Capital as their execution only broker

The new normal 

Six months quickly passed before the world came to a complete and utter standstill in March 2020.  For the Desk however, things took a different turn, as we found ourselves caught in a tidal wave of client orders. As stock prices plummeted and markets recorded huge losses, every man and his dog desperately tried to offload what they perceived to be doomed assets to balance portfolios, or to pick up some bargains along the way. Order volumes grew overnight from 90 to 250 per day. 

As lockdowns ended and life on the Isle of Man returned to ‘normality’, the Desk enlisted an extra trader to cope with ever increasing client demands. Markets continued to ebb and flow like Alton Towers’ scariest rollercoaster, as the long road to recovery was contorted by the chaos of a US presidential election and Russian aggression towards Ukraine. 

working for an investment platform from home

Order volumes across the Desk are on the rise. The daily average for 2021 was 310 with 2022 shaping up to be another bumper year (we have already experienced three separate days of over 600 trades).  As a result, some additional tasks must be put aside, leaving the Traders to focus on churning through the daily grind with speed and precision. Several system enhancements have streamlined processes and helped bring the Desk in line with other improvements made around the wider business. 

The main aim, on the investments arm of our ever-expanding company, is to re-establish what made us so successful in the first place, before the pandemic. We of course are constantly looking to do more for our clients than other investment platform providers. That means providing a highly personalised and specialised service to our clients, who can reach us directly on the Desk via phone or email to access a stock market within seconds, while simultaneously managing the ever-increasing number of orders received daily. 

man relaxing on holiday

So, what’s to love? 

The modern-day investment trader is more a millennial hipster in a hoody and sandals, than the sharp suit wearing salesman the big screen portrays, but the fundamentals of speedy execution, eagle-eyed accuracy, and nurturing client relationships, remains the same. Come the end of a busy trading day, once the intensity of the work is done, market closing bells ring and screens cease flashing green and red numbers, a trader can mentally switch off. There are no late nights furiously working on a laptop from home or checking emails while on a family holiday. The burden of pressure is lifted and can be put on hold, but tomorrow we'll be ready to deal with whatever the market throws at us!   

Disclaimer: The views, thoughts and opinions expressed within this article are those of the author, and not those of any company within the Capital International Group (CIG) and as such are neither given nor endorsed by CIG. Information in this article does not constitute investment advice or an offer or an invitation by or on behalf of any company within the Capital International Group of companies to buy or sell any product or security or to make a bank deposit 

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