Seeking to work for themselves, on their own schedules, would-be traders are taking classes on how, when and what to buy and sell on the financial markets.
Investors-in-training sign up to trade up
Chandrakant Sharma is investing in his future.
Over the past 18 months, he has spent more than US$27,000 (Dh99,162) on online trading courses in the hope he can soon retire and spend a small part of his day trading currencies, shares and futures.
"That is the goal," says Mr Sharma, 51, who is married with two daughters and has been in the UAE for seven years. "But when and how, I still do not know."
He is one of hundreds of wannabe traders who sign up for courses in Dubai each year, all of them hoping they can outwit the financial markets from the comfort of their homes.
There are many courses that try to convince students that their methods of trading are both easy to learn and have nothing to do with the technical and fundamental analysis that is usually associated with investing.
Online Trading Academy (OTA), a global network of trading schools that have physical classrooms and online tutorials, essentially teaches students how to interpret a graph and make a trade based on that view.
"I think if you understand it well, the sky is the limit," says Mr Sharma, who recently enrolled in OTA's graduate programme called the Extended Learning Track. "You can work any time. At the moment, you are restricted by timing."
Mr Sharma, originally from India, is the head of international business at Jumbo Electronics and has to juggle his global role with week-long trading courses and practice in the evenings and weekends.
He is not the only person to be attracted to the freedom of being his own boss and having the flexibility to work at his own pace, while earning a comfortable wage at the same time.
"I have made up my mind; I seriously want to be my own master and do not want to work for anyone," says MM, an HR manager at a Dubai-based bank, who does not want to be named because she aims to retire in five years to trade full time.
"I go on online forums and there are traders half my age enjoying life," she says.
MM initially spent $5,000 on OTA's week-long course, which gives a basic grounding in theory in the mornings and allows students to practise trading online in the afternoons.
"We have simple rules and apply them to all the asset classes," says Sam Seiden, OTA's global vice president of education and product development. "It's a mixture of learning the basics and trading in the classroom."
Like a good financial planner or adviser, organisers of the course first try to understand the goals of the person enrolling and aim to place them in the right trading class from the outset.
Because the course costs $5,000 for each asset class, such as forex, shares or futures, this initial chat is important for those short on cash, but high on trading optimism.
"Maybe you're a younger guy starting out, you don't have a family or responsibilities, maybe you want to try this for a career," says Mr Seiden. "But there are students who are 35 to 50. These are the people who have a career going and family. They're not the ones who can leave their jobs and start doing this full time."
The course tries to ensure that these students understand the risks and know which asset class they want to trade before signing up.
"They are looking at how to do this because they want to get out of their career. When they can make the same money as their job, they'll switch over to this," Mr Seidon says.
MM fits this description perfectly. She is 40 years old and, as well as the week-long course, she has spent a further $11,500 on OTA's Extended Learning Track.
"I intend to cover my costs," MM says. "When you have spent so much, you are more encouraged to recoup your costs."
She started trading as a hobby in 1998 and joined the OTA 18 months ago. In that time, she has seen a 20 per cent return on her investments.
"You have your bad days, but your good days cover up for that. You cannot get it wrong; you just need to be focused and disciplined," she says.
OTA says it can teach even the most financially illiterate person how to successfully trade in a number of asset classes.
The company is the biggest of its kind in the world, with more than 21,000 graduates from 35 countries. Since 2005, the Dubai franchise has seen more than 1,000 students walk through its doors.
Many of the academy's lecturers and those who write the educational content, such as Mr Seidon, come from trading floors and exchanges around the world. They say they can hear beyond the white noise of economic news and technical indicators, and understand the basic demand and supply of an asset class just by looking at a graph.
"We teach the real life way of doing this," Mr Seidon says. "There's the book version with charting and technical analysis, but we would never do that because it doesn't really work. If it worked that way, everybody would be making money who read the books."
OTA teaches students to understand the picture on a graph where demand meets supply. This is essentially where the graph is trading within a range for some time.
Once the graph breaks out from this range, either by going up or down, depending on whether there are more buyers than sellers, then the wannabe traders are taught to act.
The student traders are taught to buy when the graph is pointing downwards and all the economic and technical indicators are also falling.
They buy in the hope that the graph will return to the demand/supply range it was trading at previously, when they can bank a profit.
This is just one simplified example of the teaching policy and there are many variations. But in its simplest form, students are looking at a line on a graph and betting thousands of dollars on where it will go next.
"If you can follow simple rules and you have some discipline, those are the people who do well at this," Mr Seidon says.
Mr Chandrakant has achieved an annualised return of 25 per cent since he began trading, which is some way above annual returns on an average pension fund or savings account.
"I've been lucky," he says. "It's working out well."
Top 10 tips for aspiring traders
1. Buy small amounts of shares in a number of companies
2. When in doubt, the best option is to simply get out of a trade
3. Ignore the news if you have a good idea, but listen to every word of it in the long term
4. Don’t try to solve a problem by adding more money to a losing trade
5. Don’t become obsessive and spend an excessive amount of time trading
6. Understand how much you can lose on each trade
7. Have a daily limit that you can lose and put an automatic stop at that point with a broker
8. Don’t trade overnight, when the market is closed
9. Don’t trade if you are experiencing technical online issues
10. Never trade with money you can’t afford to lose
Source: Online Trading Academy