Opinion

The Importance of the NYSE Trading Floor

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Posted: Mar 23, 2020 12:01 AM
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The Importance of the NYSE Trading Floor

Source: AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Today, for the first time in 228 years of being open, the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) opens for trading without traders on its floor. While necessary in the interest of public health, some have argued that continuing technological progress, highlighted by greater online emphasis during the Coronavirus Pandemic, has rendered the famous NYSE trading floor obsolete. Those detractors could not be more wrong as there are very real national and human reasons for keeping the trading floor open once it is safe to do so.

The New York Stock Exchange is a part of our national fabric. The opening and closing bells, with the traders on the floor in between, are as much a part of our national day as Reveille and Retreat are for the military.   Different professions, but both deeply in love with the same special country.

The floor is a place where young people have grown up, where generations continue the work of their grandfathers, and often working with their grandfathers. For them, it is more than a job but fun and even a labor of love. When I first toured the floor of the NYSE, I was told of one trader who had been there so long that when a question arose of who was a face in a certain picture or who worked for what company way back when, the NYSE would simply ask that trader. A snooty outsider would call that man outdated but those who work there knew his wisdom. Such institutional knowledge is invaluable and every organization needs its Village Elders.

The floor is a deeply patriotic place and I was humbled to see it twice up close. The first was upon walking through the floor on the morning of the 12th anniversary of the September 11 attacks with a military contingent. The place erupted in cheers, not because of anything we personally had done, but because of the NYSE’s support of the military. Their support went beyond mere cheers and “Thank you for your service.”  

Many people on the floor offered me their business cards and, not long after, a call came to me telling me I had been selected to be a part of the NYSE Veteran Associate Program, where veterans would intern at the exchange, receive a small salary and learn the ways of finance and Wall Street. The program was also unique in that the selectees were invariably enlisted, the thinking being that officers already had a leg up in the world. They were willing to take a chance on enlisted service members, despite little financial background by most of us, and believed that enlisted members could learn the job the same way they had in the military. While thankful, I had already been blessed with a full time job and had to turn down the offer. The NYSE Veteran Associate Program was not something I could have taken advantage of, but it was also something I never forgot.

Other than drawing closer to Him and our neighbors, no one fully knows what God is trying to teach us in allowing the coronavirus to happen. However, one of the benefits is seeing that much more work than we ever thought before can be completed from home. This has benefits and drawbacks; the benefits allowing more flexibility and, if done correctly, more rest and quality time with loved ones. Some individuals are even more productive with a lack of office distractions. Due to technology, much of it generated from the floor of the NYSE, many are able to virtually go to church, have meetings, see their doctor, go to school, and work.

The drawbacks include total reliance on technology, both in the idea of the systems crashing (a virus of its own) and the loss of the human element. History shows that technology unchecked with human input and morality is dangerous.

However online we are now, the truth is most of us still long to get out of the house. We not only long for that personal human contact but we need it. We need someone to look us in the eye, to trade with, admonish us, impart love of country and have compassion on us.

Many places will always need the human touch and the trading floor of the NYSE is one of them. Detractors call the floor a relic of the past but, like that 90-plus-year-old trader who served there for decades, it is anything but.