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March 1, 2011

New Exam for Traders on the Way

By Peter Chapman

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It's back to school for traders. The nation's exchanges are devising a new test for proprietary traders and market makers that will focus on trading-specific topics. The Series 56 exam, as it will be called, is currently being formulated. The exchanges are expected to have their proposal ready by June. The test is expected to be available in September.

"The test will capture all of the generic types of questions that any equities or options trader should know," Alan Grigoletto, a BOX Options Exchange senior vice president in charge of business development and marketing, told Traders Magazine. "If you don't know this, you should not be in control of sending orders to an exchange."

Grigoletto is on the inter-exchange committee hashing out the questions for the exam. Besides BOX, the other exchange operators in the group are the Chicago Board Options Exchange, NYSE Arca, NYSE Amex, Nasdaq OMX Group, National Stock Exchange, Direct Edge and the International Securities Exchange.

Typically, market makers and prop traders are required to take either the Series 7 exam and/or one of the house exams devised by the exchanges. Examples of those are Nasdaq's Series 55 exam, NYSE Amex's Series 48 exam and NYSE Arca's Series 44 exam.

The new test will likely supersede the house exams. Still, some exchanges may still require new traders to take an orientation test to ensure they understand the vagaries of the exchange's rules.

The new Series 56 is expected to contrast sharply with the Series 7, a lengthy test covering a wide array of brokerage topics. Most of the content in the Series 7, its detractors contend, is irrelevant to the world of trading, as it takes into such matters as municipal bond trading and opening customer accounts. The Series 7 is geared towards retail stock brokers.

Still, many traders are required to take it to gain employment. At issue, is whether those prop traders and market makers who are Series 7-accredited can waive the new Series 56. The issue has not been settled, but Grigoletto and officials at CBOE say a waiver for the Series 7 is a good possibility.

Going forward, however, new traders are likely to be required to take the Series 56 exam.

It is also not clear as to whether the test will be required of market makers as well as prop traders. The test is also known as the Proprietary Traders Exam, but "it's more than likely market makers will have to take this exam, unless they have the Series 7," Grigoletto said.

The process to bring the exam into existence started in 2009. The Securities and Exchange Commission discovered some exchanges were not registering proprietary traders and market makers, or those broker-dealer employees not dealing with customers. It directed the CBOE and ISE, for example, to plug the gaps. The two exchanges set about creating tests in order to do so. The CBOE then caucused with officials at the other exchanges and drove the Series 56 initiative.

"The SEC has an interest in harmonizing registration requirements across all exchanges," a CBOE official said. "The idea is to make sure that anyone who is principally involved in the securities business and actively participating on a national market is registered and has a certain qualification. It's a good goal."