Life as a trader at BP

Oil trader Kathryn Upson tells Hannah Langworth what her working days involve
Doing the job

After graduating with a degree in geography from UCL, Kathryn Upson's first roles were in oil industry shipping operations. She then progressed into oil trading and joined BP, where she's now worked as a trader for over eight years.

Kathryn works closely with graduate joiners in BP's trading teams, both in her day-to-day role and as a mentor.

How would you describe your role?

I specialise in physical trading of Russian naphtha (a light refined product used mainly in the petrochemical industry). That means I mostly buy and sell cargoes of naphtha produced in Russia, as opposed to trading oil-related derivative products such as future and swaps.

The Russian naphtha market is really interesting. It hardly existed fifteen years ago and now it exports well over a million tonnes of naphtha a month. It's very dynamic and things are changing in it all the time.

I also spend time trading on the Mediterranean naphtha and gasoline markets.

How does your role fit into BP's business as a whole?

At BP we have naphtha we need to sell and supply needs we need to fulfill. For example, if some of our petrochemical plants in Germany need naphtha, I look at the different supply options to decide where we can get the best deal.

Before making a decision and implementing a trade, I consider where naphtha is available at the moment, the price and quality of each cargo, and exactly when it's available. I'd go through a similar process if we needed to sell naphtha.

As well as optimising around the BP portfolio, which is our priority, I also work as part of a team of naphtha traders trading speculatively as part of our physical trading business.

What's it like working on a trading floor?

It's a really productive and fun environment to be in. You're working with very smart people with lots of good ideas on markets that are moving all the time, so there's never a dull moment. You never know what the next phone call is going to be about, and the lack of repetition is one of the things that I enjoy most.

There are, however, some things that are similar every day. My hours are relatively consistent - I get in at 8.30am and leave at about 6.30pm. I have to do certain record-keeping, position management and compliance tasks each day, as there are regulations around how we trade that we have to follow.

At the moment there are generally more men than women working as traders in the sector, though BP is strongly encouraging more women to work in trading. But being in a minority hasn't put me at any disadvantage as a trader or led to issues in my career.

What are you working on today?

I did a supply trade proposal to one country this morning, and this afternoon I need to do one relating to exports from another. This is part of developing our business for the next few months and into 2014.

In between these tenders, I'm looking at the amount of naphtha that's moving to Asia from Europe this month. Understanding market fundamentals is a really key part of our work.

I'm also covering for the Mediterranean gasoline trader so I'll be talking to counterparties and brokers to see if there are any cargoes that could be profitable for us to trade. Later on in the afternoon, I'll do some hedging to make sure our Mediterranean gasoline trading book is properly managed.

To what extent do you work with others?

There are four of us trading naphtha in London, three in Singapore, and two in the US, and we have support from colleagues based in Moscow and Dubai. We also get valuable assistance from colleagues in shipping and all other aspects of operations. None of us could do what we do alone - we all contribute to decisions.

What can employees at BP get involved in beyond their jobs?

You can do charity work - for example, some people help with reading and maths at a local school. There are lots of sports activities, including popular football and netball teams.

Also, BP is a very social environment, particularly for graduates - people often go for drinks after work and meet up at the weekends.

How do you find balancing an intense career with your personal life?

I have two children, and BP has set up a fantastic arrangement allowing me to work four days a week. I get to have a weekday at home with my children, but still feel that I have full ownership over my parts of the business.

What have been the most challenging and the most rewarding times you've had at BP?

The hardest thing for most traders would be losing money when you can't personally see why. Sometimes things happen in the markets that are difficult to explain and that's very frustrating. But when the market moves just as you thought it would and you make money, it's the best feeling.