“John is looking out for his self-interest,” said a reader. “John must be out money,” said another.
It is often assumed that what motivates each of us is our own self-interest. We could not take a breath without that being true. We have to breathe.
I am not without self-interest. However, my self-interest in the MF Global case is the best interests of my customers. The customer comes first. Always. Ever.
As a futures broker for the last 22 years (and some before that), I am a customers’ man. That is what the position used to be called; Customers’ Man.
In this age of electronic trading, it is easy to forget about the customer. Instead of being a voice on the other end of the phone, or someone visiting the office, they are often just bits and bytes hitting the screen.
One of the biggest reasons I started what became the John Lothian Newsletter in August of 2000 was because I could see my relationship with my customers changing. They wanted direct electronic access to the markets. They did not want to talk to a broker, no matter how charming or how shiny his forehead. They had their own ideas on how to trade, when to trade and what to trade and they did not need to share that with anyone on the other end of the phone to make a trade.
In the era of commodified brokerage offerings, I needed to find a way to differentiate myself and add value to the relationship. I tried to do that by starting this newsletter.
Another reason I started it was that there was so much change back then, that customers were likely to lose money trading because they were tripped up by the changing world. I wanted to give customers a fighting chance by democratizing the information and making it freely available to any customer or trader.
I even had other brokers recommend their customers subscribe to my newsletter. They trusted me and what I was doing. My focus then and now is the customer’s best interest.
I am not much of a broker these days, at least compared to when I started JLN. My title as head of electronic trading at The Price Group is a lot more hat and a lot less cattle than it used to be, to put it in Texas terms. I still have clients. I still have ambitions in the brokerage space, but many people don’t see me as a broker anymore. They see me as a media person.
But I still see myself as a broker. I still care about the customer. And when I write about the markets, I always think about the interests of the customers first. I was taught to put the customers first and it stuck with me.
It may be hard for today’s proprietary traders to identify with the futures customer. They never talk to them. They don’t educate them. They don’t make those hard calls for margin money. They don’t share parts of their lives with them. Brokers do. Customer’s Men and Women do.
Customers are the lifeblood of the market. They are the heart of the economic purpose of it, whether hedgers or speculators. They are the reason why the markets exist.
The markets don’t exist so high speed computers can game each other. The futures markets exist so prices can be discovered and disseminated and risks can be transferred. They exist so customers, big and small, can use the markets to manage risk. All the rest is just the markets’ version of sausage making.
Did I lose money in the MF Global bankruptcy? No. But my customers did. And because of that loss of money, there is a significant loss of trust. The industry losing the trust of the customers is far worse for me, and every customers’ man or woman, than losing money.
Do I have an self-interest in seeing the MF Global customers made whole? You’re darn right I do. My best interests are the customers’ best interests. I want to restore their trust and confidence in our markets, institutions and rules governing it.
The message I get from customers is that the first thing they need for that to happen is to be made whole. It is in their best interests and I believe the industry’s find a way to make that happen.