How This Chief Trader Is Embracing Working From Home

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(Bloomberg) -- For years, John Christofilos would wake up at 4:09 a.m. and jump on the elliptical machine in his basement for a quick workout while scanning emails and market news, before heading into his office in downtown Toronto.

The Covid-19 lockdown has changed his morning routine in two respects. First, the chief trading officer at AGF Management Ltd. gets to sleep in for an extra 40 minutes, waking at 4:49 a.m. (nine is his lucky number). Then, after his trip to the home gym, he heads to the trading desk in his living room.

“I love it,” says the trader, who’s in his 50s.

How This Chief Trader Is Embracing Working From Home

When Christofilos first realized he might be forced to work at home because of the coronavirus, he worried he might not be as efficient as he was in the office. But like many other employees at financial firms, he’s finding the experience better than expected -- so much so that he’s considering creating a work-from-home rotational program for his team.

As banks and asset managers around the world try to figure out how they’ll manage their offices after the pandemic, some see the opportunity for permanent change in how they work. Toronto-Dominion Bank expects to keep work-from-home arrangements as an option for some of its 9,000 call-center staff. Morgan Stanley Chief Executive Officer James Gorman said he could see a future when some of its employees regularly work from home.

For Christofilos, the key was a proper tech set-up. “I am a stickler for consistency and I wanted to make sure that we were being consistent with our technology, our communication and everything from home as we were in the office,” he said in a phone interview.

With fewer distractions from impromptu chats with colleagues or the incessant buzz around the trading desk, Christofilos says he finds himself “laser-focused” on each trade and his team as efficient as ever.

Full Connectivity

It helps to have AGF’s massive technology team behind him. The Toronto-based investment firm managed about C$34.3 billion ($24.4 billion) as of March 31.

He has two main screens instead of his usual five but supplements that with two laptops -- one devoted to financial television. The rest of his work station is pretty much the same as in the office. “I have all my 60 direct lines to all our brokers that we deal with and trade with all day long and I have full connectivity to my Bloomberg, as I did in the office,” he said. His team trades all major asset classes including equities, fixed income, commodities and options.

How This Chief Trader Is Embracing Working From Home

After soaking up the overnight action, Christofilos gets on a call with AGF’s investment management team and others in the company to discuss the latest views on the markets. That lasts 15 to 30 minutes and often involves guest speakers from brokerage firms to get a well-rounded view of what’s happening.

There are also daily market update calls and two to three calls set up by the firm’s sales team with advisers. Those are supplemented with crisis-management calls to discuss how AGF is managing the shutdown challenges.

When North American markets open at 9:30 a.m., Christofilos and his team execute orders from AGF’s portfolio managers. Trading volume for the firm has been on par with what it would normally be, he said.

Asia Trades

“Our technology team did an incredible job ensuring our firm has complete redundancy and backups in place. If I can’t trade, we have three other traders in Canada and two in the U.S. who can pick up and continue without interruption. We also have the always-reliable phone to communicate with our counter-parties if necessary,” he said.

He tries to get up and move around throughout the day by doing push-ups, sit-ups, jumping jacks and sometimes runs on the spot. Even taking a short walk to his kitchen to make lunch is a good distraction, he said. And he doesn’t have to worry about looking after younger children. His kids are 28, 26 and 23, with only the youngest living at home.

After markets close at 4 p.m., Christofilos and his team prepare for the next morning. That includes sending brokers in Asia and Europe instructions for trades. It’s generally lights out by 11 p.m., unless he’s still busy trading Asian markets -- or indulging in his binge-watch favorites which include Ozark, The Crown and The Last Dance.

Retest Lows

Christofilos has been working in financial markets for decades. He lived through the 1987 Black Monday crash, the 2000 tech wreck and the global financial crisis before the Covid-19 pandemic that has caused a deep recession and unprecedented swings in markets.

How This Chief Trader Is Embracing Working From Home

For now, he’s staying cautious on the markets. He believes they could retest their lows and that would be an opportunity to put some money to work. “Patience is a virtue when it comes to markets that have this much volatility,” he said. Though more often than not, a big decline is usually followed by a reversal the next day, he said.

“I hope this experience has taught us some new lessons around how to look at the markets, how to digest the markets, how to execute in the markets. It’s going to change behavior and I think it’s going to change for the better,” he said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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