In bed most nights by 10 p.m., Mike Ser isn't a night owl, a fact that works in his favour. As a Vancouver-based trader, he's at his desk and ready for action when the North American markets open at 6:30 a.m. Pacific Time.
"If you're a morning person, it's great," says Mr. Ser, who is a partner with Andy Man at Ser Man Traders, a training and development centre for financial traders. "You're up and running by 4:30 or 5 and ready to go."
The routine isn't for everyone. One of Mr. Ser's former students joined him on the job and lasted just two days.
"If you're not really a morning person, you can't force yourself to do it," says the Vancouver native. "I typically look at [market] activity in the first two hours, so I could be done before 9 o'clock. If I want to trade the entire day, I can go till 1. Then I still have the rest of the day to myself. It's a great benefit."
Waking up before dawn is one of the realities of being a West Coast trader. Members of this relatively small group face both pros and cons to being in the Pacific Northwest in an industry that largely ticks along on Eastern Time.
The routine takes discipline, says Vancouver's John Seville, founder of Acorn Wealth Corp., which provides stock-market training. And early mornings can present unique challenges if trades are taking place at someone's dining-room-cum-home-office.
"I know a lot of traders whose kids will come in and start screaming at them for breakfast," he says. "One trader has $50-million under his belt, and his biggest problem is the kids disturbing him in the morning."
Mr. Seville does much of his research in the evenings, even though he still wakes around 4 a.m. to go to the gym, catch up on financial news and be "amped up" for the 6:30 bell.
"Fifteen years ago, being a floor trader was very much about being in the pit watching every movement," he says. "But high frequency trading precludes us from in fact even needing to be in front of the computer during market hours. The markets are now estimated to be driven at a stunning 80 per cent or more coming from high frequency algorithm-based trading systems, which make buy and sell decisions calculated almost entirely based on patterns and tracking money flow in the market."
"My team and I make most of our decisions at night. We'll run scans and literally analyze every single stock in the market."
While early-rising West Coast traders can easily overcome the time difference relating to NASDAQ and the New York and Toronto stock exchanges, there are ways to make trades in Vancouver without waking up at unearthly hours.
Mr. Man, for instance, started trading in 2006 while he was working as a civil engineer. Because he had to be at the office at 7 a.m., he couldn't participate in North American financial markets.
Gold and silver markets, however, are a different story: They are open 24/7. Mr. Man would spend his evenings trading, building experience until he felt ready to quit his job in 2012 to become a full-time trader. He now finds his flexible schedule ideal to juggle work and family life.
"You can set your own hours, so when I'm not working I'm driving or taking care of my kids," Mr. Man says. "You can trade whatever markets suit your lifestyle."
The time difference in the West also works better to trade in Asia: The Tokyo Stock Exchange is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Japan Standard Time, which means 5 to 11 p.m. in Vancouver, and 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. in New York.
There are negatives to being in the Pacific Northwest, however. Being far removed from the epicentre of the trading action means those in the West may have fewer job options and limited opportunities for career advancement than if they were in the hard-charging power centres of Toronto or New York.
They miss out on the industry's fervour, too.
"You can remotely access markets and work from anywhere, but traders are all adrenalin junkies at heart," Mr. Seville says. "So while it's nice to admire the views of Vancouver beaches, we do lack the connection of being around other traders, the adrenalin of the busy financial hub."
Building a community is one reason Mr. Ser and Mr. Man started their company. The two wanted to help people who have a passion for the market learn via seminars and workshops, but they also wanted to create opportunities for networking and social connections.
"When you're trading by yourself from home, it can be quite lonely," Mr. Ser says.
"We wanted people to have the ability to learn, but we also wanted to make it more of a lifestyle," he adds. "We conduct social events, we have dinner and drinks, to build relationships through recreation. The social aspect allows traders to talk about the day and learn from each other."
West Coast traders may not be at the pulse of things like their eastern peers, but better work-life balance and quality of life more than make up for that, they say.
And despite the early mornings, West Coast traders have more time for leisure activities. Finishing at 1 in the afternoon means plenty of time for all those things that Vancouverites love to brag about.
"You can go skiing and go to the beach on the same day," Mr. Ser says. "In the winter there's skiing or snowboarding after trading, and in summer you can go hiking.
"Whether you've had a good day or a bad day, going down to the beach can be very relaxing."