Professional Trading Strategies (Backtest And Example)

Last Updated on November 5, 2022 by Oddmund Groette

Professional traders have their unique ways of trading, but one thing that is common among them is that they do not follow the crowd. They follow their specific trading plans and use their own strategies. But what are professional trading strategies?

Professional traders use the normal indicators, price action patterns, and strategies that are available to most traders. The only difference is that professional traders know the ones that work and how to use them well. Unlike retail traders who dabble with different strategies they never know work or not, professional traders only employ strategies they have confirmed through backtesting to have an edge in the market and then execute them in the right way and at the right time.

In this post, we take a look at professional trading strategies. At the end of the article, we make some backtests.

What strategies do professional traders use?

Although retail traders often think that professional traders use complex strategies to trade the markets profitably, that is not the case at all. Professional traders use the normal indicators, price action patterns, and strategies that are available to most traders. The only difference is that professional traders know the ones that work and how to use them well.

Professional traders only employ strategies they have confirmed to have an edge in the market they are trading and execute them in the right way and at the right time. This is unlike retail traders who dabble with different strategies without first knowing whether they work or not.

Whether a strategy is based on a simple indicator like the RSI or a complex price action pattern, the essence of any strategy that would make money is its edge. This is why professional traders take a lot of time and effort searching for an edge. If there is any unique thing professional traders do that makes them money, it is their use of only strategies with an edge.

But how do they find that edge? The obvious answer is through research and testing. They research the market to find inefficiencies, which they convert to trading ideas. Some of the tools they use for their research are academic publications in financial journals, studying the price charts for repetitive patterns, and tweaking existing indicators or strategies.

When they find a useful idea, they formulate different trading rules for it and backtest them on past price data. If the strategy performs well on historical price data, they go ahead and forward-test it on current market data to see if works as well in current market conditions. It is only when they have confirmed that the strategy can make money that they use it to trade on their real account.

With the knowledge that their strategy has an edge, a professional trader has the confidence to execute the strategy even when they are experiencing a drawdown, knowing that in the long run, the strategy would make money. Trading, then, becomes a game of odds. The trader knows that there is no way of knowing which particular trade would be a winner or a loser but after a series of many trades, the odds play out and there would be more winners than losses or more money made on winners than the money lost on users.

Thus, with a verified edge in the market and understanding that trading is all about the odds playing out over a series of trades, the professional trader’s game becomes about risk management — using the right position size and maintaining a certain account risk that offer them the best chance for their odds to play out. For instance, risking 10% per trade would wipe them out in 10 losing trades, but risking only 1% per trade, they still have over 90% of their capital to play with even after 10 consecutive losses.

How many strategies do professional traders use?

Another thing about professional traders is that they employ many strategies at the same time, and they trade both long and short, regardless of the market they are trading in — stocks, futures, forex, bonds, or cryptocurrencies. By doing that, they sort of hedge their risk and also achieve diversification. Short-selling may be difficult in some markets, such as stocks, because of inflation and earnings growth, but it is still part of professionals’ trading plans, as it can provide valuable diversification.

While there are many methods out there, the common strategies professional traders employ include momentum, mean-reversion, and trend-following strategies.

Momentum strategies

These are strategies that attempt to trade along with price momentum. That is, signals are generated when the price is gaining momentum in one direction. An example is the breakout strategy. There is usually a rise in price momentum when a breakout occurs, probably from a narrow range.

Another example is trading only impulse swings in a trending market. Impulse swings follow pullbacks and are usually large and with higher velocity. Those who know how to capture them, either with price action or indicators like the RSI, enjoy the high momentum that goes with them.

Mean-reversion strategies

These strategies harness the price’s tendency to revert to its mean after drifting significantly away from it. This is a sort of contrarian strategy and works best in a range-bound market. Professionals can use both price action and indicators to trade mean reversion.

An example of a price action method that exploits mean reversion is the Spring and Upthrust strategy in a range-bound market. Those who trade the strategy with an indicator may use the Bollinger Bands or RSI which show overbought and oversold levels.

Trend-following strategies

These strategies try to ride the trend to its conclusion and milk all the profits it has to offer. Many of these strategies use moving averages or other trend-following indicators. It is common for a trend-following signal to come from a breakout from an accumulation phase of the market.

Professional traders’ Holy Grail

The real thing that makes professional traders successful is that they understand the game. They play their odds, knowing that they will make money eventually, but most importantly, they use diversification to manage risk. Diversification is their trading Holy Grail! Here’s how they do it:

  • Diversification with strategies: Professional traders often have a diversified portfolio of strategies. They use a combination of trend-following, mean-reversion, and momentum strategies to get the best out of any market they are trading. If the market condition is not favorable to one strategy, the favored strategy would be making money to offset any losses from the one in an offseason.
  • Diversification across asset classes: Professional traders also trade different assets at the same time. The idea is that if their strategies are not doing well in one asset, the gains from the ones that are performing well would offset the losses.
  • Diversification across timeframes: Professional traders also diversify across timeframes. They have strategies to trade on the daily timeframe and ones to trade on lower timeframes, thereby employing scalping, day trading, swing trading, and position trading styles at the same time. This diversified approach helps them to manage risks.

Professional trader requirements

There are different career paths for a trader:

  • Trading one’s own account from home
  • Trading for a hedge fund or large investment bank
  • Opening an asset management firm and trading other investors’ money

Of course, you can trade stocks, currencies, or any other financial instrument for your own account as you please and can also trade for a prop firm. You don’t need a finance degree or MBA for that, even though that may be helpful.

But while you don’t need any licenses to trade for your own account, if you want to trade other investors’ money, you will have to meet the requirements of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority in the US. There are many types of FINRA registrations available to traders, but most likely you’ll have to meet the requirements for a General Securities Registered Representative which requires you to pass the Series 7 exam. There are also other, more limited types of FINRA registrations that allow you to only trade options, futures, or government bonds.

Here is a list of common FINRA securities examinations in the table below:

SeriesExam type
Series 3National Commodities Futures Exam*
Series 5
Interest Rate Options Exams
Series 6Investment Company and Variable Contracts Exam (Mutual Funds/Variable Annuities)
Series 7General Securities Representative Exam (Stockbroker)
Series 11
Assistant Representative-Order Processing
Series 15
Foreign Currency Options Exam
Series 17
United Kingdom Securities Representative Exam
Series 22Direct Participation (Limited partnerships) Exam
Series 30
NFA Branch Manager Exam
Series 31Futures – Managed Funds Exam

If you want to check the complete list, take a look at FINRA’s website.

It may be necessary to pursue a technical analysis license to help a professional trading career. The CMT Association offers the well-known Chartered Market Technical Program and follows a strict learning curriculum to master the art of technical analysis.

In Europe, to qualify as a professional trader, you may have to meet criteria set by ESMA (the European Securities and Marketing Authority), which are:

  • You currently work or have worked in the financial sector in a professional position for at least a year, requiring knowledge of derivatives trading
  • You averaged ten significantly sized transactions per quarter, during the past year
  • You have a financial instrument portfolio, including cash deposits, exceeding €500,000

Common rules used by professional traders

Becoming a successful professional trader is not just about qualifications and licenses. There are some rules they adhere to that make them stay ahead of the market. These are some of them:

  • Ignoring the wisdom of the crowd: The wisdom of the crowd does not work in the financial market. Professional traders have an independent mindset — they design and execute their strategies as they deem fit, not depending on tips or the opinion of others.
  • Finding the edge first: The key to making money from trading is having a strategy with an edge in the market. This is why professional traders first try to find that edge and verify it through backtesting and forward-testing before putting their hard-earned money on the line.
  • Having a robust risk management strategy: Without a proper risk management plan, it is not possible to stay in the game long enough to be profitable. Position sizing must be in such a way as to maintain a small account risk per trade.
  • Always learning from the market: Professional traders are always eager to learn something new from the market. When they are not busy executing their trades, they are analyzing their parameters or researching new ideas and creating new strategies. There is always something to learn from the market.
  • Playing all setups that match their strategy: For a strategy to be profitable, it has to play out across all matching setups. It is not good to miss or cherry-pick the setups to trade, as the missed ones may be the ones that would work. This is why many now code their strategies into trading algos to execute their trades at all times without missing any setups.
  • Accepting losses as part of the game: No matter how good a strategy is, it must have some losing trades. Losses are part of the trading game. They are the cost of doing business in trading. What matters is being profitable in the long run.
  • Thinking in probabilities: Professional traders know how to think in probabilities. This implies knowing that the outcome of any specific trade does not matter as long as their strategy has an edge in the market. Over a series of trades, their odds would play out and they would be profitable.
  • Controlling trading emotions: Trading emotions, such as fear, greed, hope, and excitement, are the bane of discretionary trading. They make trade execution difficult, turning a winning strategy into a losing one. This is why professional traders convert their strategies to trading algos.
  • Knowing when to stay out: A trader needs to know when to stay away from the market. If a strategy is built to exploit range-bound markets, it makes no sense trying to trade it in a trending market.
  • Being disciplined: Professional traders know how to stick to their trading plan. They already know they have an edge, so they have confidence in their system and trade it until they complete their planned sample size.
  • Being in the right mental state: Your mental state matters in trading. It is easy to carry over whatever is wrong in your life to your trading performance. Try to separate your trading needs from your personal needs.
  • Keeping things simple: Trading is a lot easier when things are kept simple. Simple strategies are easier to implement than complex ones and well-implemented strategies are more likely to make money.

Professional trading strategies – backtest

A backtest is coming soon.

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