Traders looking to buy and sell hundreds of shares of stock at a fraction of a second, and at the touch of a computer key, fear one thing above all others: computer crashes.
That's why day traders rely on people like Edward Bernabeo. If a trader hits a computer glitch or needs additional information on his or her screen, Bernabeo is there immediately, fixing the problem and allowing the trader to continue the rapid buy-sell process.
"There's always going to be problems," says the 29-year-old Bernabeo. "But when a problem arises, there's always a solution. I'm dealing with people who have a lot of money on the line. The problem has to be solved."
Solving problems begins for Bernabeo every day just after 6 a.m. when the market opens. Casually clad in blue jeans and a baggy shirt, Philadelphia-born Bernabeo arrives at Westwood Stock Trading Co. greeting the traders who have already hunkered down at their dual-screen computers.
Day traders who are customers of the company, not employees buy and sell using their own money, with computers supplied by Westwood Stock. The company gets a small fee every time they make a trade.
Within five minutes of his arrival, Bernabeo is called by a customer, one of three Korean American businessmen who are in a back room doing trades. The customer's charts aren't "dynamically updating" meaning that he is unable to monitor market data in real time and unable to make decisions quickly enough. Bernabeo identifies a corrupt file, rebuilds the charts and ensures that the customer's screen includes all the necessary data.
"Want the S & P; 500? Want bond futures? Are you still following Apple?" asks Bernabeo, as he quickly responds to each answer with an addition or movement of a chart.
Within 10 minutes, the problem is solved and Bernabeo heads back toward the main floor, where five or six traders, most of whom are in shorts and T-shirts, sit transfixed to their dual screens.
By the time Bernabeo hits the floor, a customer asks him to place a hedge position. Bernabeo picks up the phone, calls Chicago and hedges 500 shares of Amgen on the customer's account.
It's now 6:40 a.m., and Bernabeo heads to the downstairs deli for his morning cup of coffee, having been given a reprieve in his daily paperwork by Albert "Bud" Kruger, the company's president.
Bernabeo had been living in Houston, working as a stockbroker for six years and a trader for just under two, when he and some friends decided to open an office for day traders. They would work under the Nasdaq Small Order Execution System, which was started after the 1987 crash when small investors complained that they were unable to dump their stock quickly.
Because Houston already had plenty of these businesses, the friends moved to L.A. to start up Westwood Stock. In preparing their computer system, the group made up of Bernabeo, Kruger and trader Steve Kim realized how expensive it would be to hire someone for the installation.
That's when Bernabeo spoke up. Despite no formal computer instruction, he hacked around computers since he was 14, and learned wiring from doing construction work with his father.
"I said, 'I know how to do this,' " recalled Bernabeo. "They were a little reluctant at first, but they finally agreed. I hooked up the entire system."
After that, Bernabeo became known as the "computer guy" in the office, and is now relied upon for problem-solving and instructing new traders on how to use the system.
"This job can be stressful at times, but when it's stressful and has to be done immediately, (Bernabeo) responds to that," said Kruger.
While the job leaves him no time to trade (although he frequently calls in trades on behalf of customers), Bernabeo believes that his background knowledge in the business is crucial.
"You have to have a good knowledge of trading and what's going on," he said. "When a customer says, 'I'm long this stock and I'm trying to get out and this button won't work,' I know what he wants. It has to be fixed fast every second that goes by he could be losing hundreds of dollars."
The morning is going fairly well, and Bernabeo is able to sit and drink coffee for 30 minutes without a sound from his beeper. Even so, Bernabeo says that he can never be gone too long and must always eat lunch at his desk. "If it were up to Bud, I'd be chained to my desk," he jokes.
And upon arriving back in the office, it appears that Bernabeo wasn't exaggerating. A customer immediately summons Bernabeo to his computer, asking him to add a chart that shows stock prices over the last three months.
Within five minutes, the chart is added.
"We always bring the people what they want," laughs Bernabeo.
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