One hedge to fully investing in the sex- and drugs-filled workplace drama of HBO’s Industry is that it’s loaded with financial jargon that’s sometimes as impenetrable as Fort Knox. The show’s British co-creators, Mickey Down and Konrad Kay, wouldn’t have it any other way. “As well as the soapy fun, we wanted it to be super-authentic,” Kay says. “The version of the show that kind of spoon-fed the audience was the one that we were always going to side against because we came from that world.” (Kay worked in equity sales until being made redundant in 2013 by a boss who said he was likely the worst salesperson the firm ever had; Down quit his job as “the lowest of the low” junior banker in mergers and acquisitions at an old European firm in 2011.)
Set in the complex world of international banking, Industry follows a group of recent college grads competing for a limited number of spots at Pierpoint & Co., “the world’s preeminent financial institution,” according to its managing director. On the trading floor, outsiders Harper (Myha’la Herrold) and Robert (Harry Lawtey) are on the sales desk (CPS) answering to Daria (Freya Mavor) and managing director Eric (Ken Leung), who sees something of himself in Harper, the only American rookie. Posh Yasmin (Marisa Abela) works in foreign exchange (FX), where her sexist boss, Kenny (Conor MacNeill), has her fetching coffee and filling lunch orders, so she cockteases Robert to feel less impotent. There’s also imperious Oxford grad Gus (David Jonsson), who’s displeased that he has been reassigned to CPS after the drug-related death of Hari (Nabhaan Rizwan), but he’s happy second-year analyst Theo (Will Tudor) can’t quit their secret hookups.
And through it all, they’re constantly spouting, well, industry jargon that risks being as impenetrable to the cast as it is to viewers. Down says that necessitated “constant dialogue” with the actors “because, obviously, on the page, you think, What am I talking about? The actors did actually want to understand what they were saying. I don’t know if by the end they did.”
Whether they did or not, it certainly sounds to layman’s ears like Industry knows what it’s talking about, so Vulture asked the first-time showrunners from London to help decipher some of the series’ more obscure finance-world context — including Harper’s big screwup in episode four, “Sesh.”
“Half a yard, done, four cents” is what Harper says to seal her first deal with Daria’s client Nicole in episode one. What does that mean?
“Yard” is trader talk for a billion dollars, Kay explains. So “half a yard” is $500 million. “‘Four cents’ is the level at which Rishi, the trader, agrees to price the trade” for an option on U.S. Treasury yields. But Kay says the amount Nicole actually pays is $200,000, for which CPS’s commission would only be a small percent. Still, Eric affirming Harper’s success — “Do not forget how this feels right now” — is enough to make the hard-charging college dropout splurge on a luxe hotel suite for the night.
Kenny puts Yasmin on the spot and then humiliates her in front of the FX team about her trade idea in episode two. He says, “You’re dead on RIF.” What’s he threatening?
RIF is an acronym for “reduction in force,” the day the grads justify their worth and find out whether they’ll be hired or fired. “It really is about who you sit next to in these places, in terms of how you’re allowed to flourish,” Down says. Though Yasmin comes from privilege and has great potential, Kenny has sapped all of her confidence. Kay hints that she may soon transcend her “poxy role as salad girl” and go from leafy greens to greenbacks, thanks to her family connection to new hedge-funder Maxim Alonso, whom she runs into buying lunches.
After Eric loses his big client Felim, he tells his staff that “Rishi and the traders will be in with their axes. Double sales credits to anyone who fills them this month.” What is Rishi swinging his ax at?
“That is what you call a deep cut,” Kay says, laughing about the “really jargony term.” Traders’ jobs are to provide liquidity, which often means taking opposite positions to the banks’ clients. These short positions — “the ax” — carry risk. Kay doesn’t know where the term comes from, but he imagines it’s because risk “is something that can fall on your neck and kill you.” That’s why Eric offers “double sales credits” to anyone who can get rid of it.
In episode four, Eric says the next day is “payrolls,” and he wants everyone to take lunch at the desk. What’s the big deal?
Markets rise and fall on economic data, and one major influence is “nonfarm payrolls” — a.k.a. the U.S. jobs report. Though the show made it a bigger deal for dramatic purposes, trading and currencies typically move in a bullish or bearish direction based on the report.
Daria’s client Aubrey turns down Harper’s housing idea but agrees to a cable deal. Then Duncan from “middle office” tells her there’s a discrepancy. What’s happened?
Harper thinks Aubrey bought 50 million sterling, but he wanted dollars. So she bought approximately £10,000,000 too much — an unwanted and unauthorized position — that potentially exposes her to a large loss as the currency rate between dollars and sterling fluctuates. The back office — Duncan — is flagged to sort it out. Instead of coming clean to Eric, Harper doubles down and tries to trade her way out of the loss around the jobs data. “It’s probably the dumbest thing you can possibly do,” Kay says about the “classic mistake” that just winds up losing her more money.
To fix the hole she’s in, Harper tries selling Nicole something the savvy investor dismisses as a “vanilla currency option that will lose me money.” Is that the deal Nicole ultimately takes to save her?
“That’s right,” Down says, laughing. “It’s sort of [her] taking responsibility for sexually assaulting Harper [in episode one]. There’s probably some sort of guilt there.” For Nicole, the amount is just “a rounding error” that will lose her money but clear her conscience. And why Eric says to Harper, “Hell of a spread she ate. What did you do?”
Will the financial stuff get easier to understand?
“It becomes easier to understand because there’s less of it,” Down chuckles. “And the stakes become a lot clearer” as the story becomes more about Harper and Eric’s relationship. “I mean, if we went back, we’d probably explain the stuff a little bit more,” he allows. “Because, obviously, when me and Konrad started, we didn’t speak like Harper … We didn’t understand half the things she understood.”
If all else fails, Kay thinks watching the show with closed captioning on might help.