Boys lose out to spread betting sisterhood

Financial spread betting and contract for difference (CFD) trading is a man’s world no longer.

Financial Times 10th December 2010

While women used to be under-represented in this arena, their numbers have been steadily increasing in recent years.

“Online trading platforms have reduced the barriers to entry into financial spread betting and this has meant that one of the fastest growing areas in this area is that of the female client,” says Alistair McCaig, senior trader at WorldSpreads.

Chart: Spread betting by asset classes

He adds: “With online trading there is no ‘old boy’s network’ to worry about and female clients do not need to worry about prejudice.”

Anyone taking a position in the markets, whether in stocks, commodities or foreign exchange, can do so at the click of a mouse.

“There are no gender barriers,” says Sandy Jadeja, chief technical analyst at City Index. “Just over 12 years ago, the attendees at our seminars were 100 per cent male. Now that has dropped to about 70 per cent.”

The ratio of male to female spread betters is still heavily weighted in favour of male traders but it seems female spread betters are actually outperforming their male counterparts. According to research from IG Index, on average, female traders win twice as much or lose half as much as their male counterparts.

Why is this, and can it really be that women are better spread betters than men? Some say it is the ability to accept when they are wrong and need to ask questions that gives women an edge over men in financial spread betting and CFD trading.

“It is recognised that successful trading is as much about psychology as inspired stock picking, and it seems that the emotions may be where women have the upper hand,” says Tim Hughes, managing director at IG Index.

He says the adage of running profits and cutting losses acquires a new dimension when viewed from the point of view of ego.

“A cliché it may be, but men hate to be wrong,” says Mr Hughes. “Does this reluctance to concede when wrong make men more likely to run losses? There is a school of thought that the female psyche is better disposed to accept being wrong, realise small losses and move on. Ultimately, this behaviour is crucial to successful trading.”

James Hughes, market analyst at CMC Markets, agrees: “Female traders, contrary to popular belief, are also far better at extracting the emotional side of trading from their decision making.

“When it comes to taking profits or accepting losses, female traders are far more likely to walk away rather than trying to squeeze every pip out of a trade or blindly hope for a position to come back in their favour.”

The idea behind this is that when a trade goes wrong, some men – and of course some women – believe it is better to ignore the trade rather than be proved wrong by taking the loss, in the vain hope the market will swing round and prove that they were right in the first place.

Others believe the difference in performance between men and women is linked to research techniques. Men and women differ in that men tend to “learn by doing”. While there is nothing necessarily wrong with this approach, it could disadvantage them when compared with the fairer sex, say experts.

Mr Hughes says: “Perhaps a little more time spent reading about the basics, viewing seminars and researching trading and common pitfalls – which is undoubtedly the best way to approach trading – is something that women are more likely to do than men.”

Barbara-Ann King, head of investments at Barclays Stockbrokers, supports this view. “Financial education, lifestyle and psychology are key differentiators between men and women and their attitudes to investing,” she says. “Women possess many of the characteristics of a good investor in natural abundance.

“They can multi-task, they are diligent about research, they are often more prepared to take a longer-term view and tend to have high levels of composure, a fantastic characteristic if you are to ride out markets and secure the best possible returns.”

Perhaps another reason is that female spread betters approach their betting and CFD trades with greater caution than their male counterparts. “Testosterone levels in men are a big factor in causing booms and busts within financial markets,” says Simon Denham, head of Capital Spreads.

“Testosterone levels are lower in female traders and this is reflected in the fact that they are more likely to get out of a market that is overpriced quicker, thus avoiding the eventual bust.

“We see that women are more patient in terms of seeking a profit over the longer term instead of making large, short-term bets.”

He says these attributes are very useful when it comes to using a leveraged product such as spread betting. Since profits and losses can be magnified using small initial cash outlays, discipline is paramount in order to avoid your cash balance suffering a boom or bust.

But whether or not such hypotheses offer adequate explanation is hard to say, admits Mr Hughes. “Both are based in sweeping generalisations – and there are many and notable exceptions to the ‘norm’ – but there does seem to be a material difference in the trading success of women when compared with men.”

Philip Brown, chief executive of ProSpreads argues the flip side is “women can be too disciplined, in that they are generally not inherent risk-takers, unlike men, and you have to take some risk to reap a profit”.

In terms of what traders will bet their money on, this also differs between the sexes. The chart shows the percentages of the three most popular asset classes as apportioned along the sexual divide.

Across all asset classes, women held positions open for 20 per cent less time than men, but when looking at spread bets in only forex and indices, female clients held their positions open 54 per cent longer.

Many in the industry believe spread betting companies will become more female focused.

“I expect spread betting companies to start providing more gender-neutral advertising and additional tools to service the naturally analytical female approach to speculating on financial markets,” says Mr Brown.

The idea that traders are men in their 50s with a financial services background is being dispelled.

Sandy Jadeja at City Index says: “Our aim is to open the sector up further, so our education seminars are made up of half men and half women, with both parties then continuing to trade afterwards,” he says.

“In this era of accessibility and openness we are confident that women traders are here – and here to stay.”

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