- Raymond Ko had a tumultuous career journey as an equity trader — he was laid off three times.
- After being laid off from Deutsche Bank for the second time in three years, he left finance.
- Ko got his free-diving-instructor license and started his own business.
This as-told-to essay is based on a transcribed conversation with Raymond Ko, a free-diving instructor in Taiwan, about leaving a career in finance behind. The following has been edited for length and clarity.
I’ve been laid off three times in my career and fired once, but being laid off by Deutsche Bank changed my life for the better. I’m no longer monetarily rich, but I’ve found true wealth underwater and am immensely grateful for my free-diving journey.
It’s been a roller coaster of a work-life adventure.
When I was fired in 2009 from my position as a cash-equity sales trader in Taiwan, it was a shock. In 2012, I was laid off from my job as a regional sales trader.
I wasn’t as surprised when Deutsche Bank laid me off in 2017. I returned to it in 2019, only to get laid off for the third time.
I was fired as a trader in Taiwan
In 1995, I graduated with a degree in economics from the University of California, Berkeley.
I then spent a year in Shanghai learning Mandarin. At the time, there was an economic boom in China, so I moved to Hong Kong to pursue a career in investment banking. Between 1997 and 1998, I worked as an investment-research assistant at CLSA — a top investment group in Asia.
After a year, I was offered a position in Taiwan as a cash-equity sales trader. I climbed the ranks for about four years and was making $250,000. I couldn’t believe how much I was making.
I lived in Taiwan for seven years. I got married and had two kids. Even before I was fired, I suffered from anxiety and panic attacks, but I convinced myself I was happy.
In 2005, the Taiwanese economy seemed shaky, so I requested a transfer back to Hong Kong and worked for several more years. In 2009, I was fired suddenly from my position as a cash-equity sales trader.
It was a shock. I started my career at CLSA and planned to end it there.
They called me into a room and told me I was underperforming, which wasn’t true. The only other person who got let go was a colleague in Singapore. The experience was brutal and led to depression.
I’d worked for Sanford C. Bernstein for 2 years when I was laid off
I secured another trading job in Hong Kong. Finding another position wasn’t hard. Headhunters and brokers began reaching out to me immediately. I was working again within four months of getting fired.
I could have started earlier, but I’d worked for over a decade and needed a break. I worked briefly as a regional sales trader at Execution Noble from January 2010 to September 2010 before starting as a regional sales trader at Sanford C. Bernstein in October 2010.
Just over two years later, I was laid off. It was just a few weeks before Christmas and one of the scariest times of my life. I was sick to my stomach thinking about the severe financial strain.
In 2013, I was incredibly grateful to start working as an equity sales trader at Deutsche Bank in Taiwan. I was earning $255,000 a year at this job. I enjoyed my time there, and my coworkers and boss were interesting and fun.
While at Deutsche Bank, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, which causes chronic fatigue and extreme body pain.
I was laid off from Deutsche Bank twice in 3 years
I got laid off from Deutsche Bank in February 2017. I wasn’t shocked. There was a global culling of directors, and I wasn’t the only one laid off. The severance laws in Taiwan are favorable, and I was very pleased with my payout.
I dabbled in starting an e-commerce business until April 2018, working for my friend’s startup. I was just helping out until a better opportunity came along.
During that time, I came across free diving online and was shocked to learn that Taiwan was a free-diving mecca. I signed up for the AIDA2 Freediver course.
When I was free diving, I experienced an energy and vibrancy I hadn’t felt in a long time.
I didn’t feel the pain or fatigue I usually got from my fibromyalgia in the ocean. Working full time, I could dive only a few hours a month.
I returned to Deutsche Bank in January 2019 on $220,000 a year. I was told I could take over the role of equity head if I did well. I wanted to end my career as the head of equities at Deutsche Bank in Taiwan.
Cultivating my free-diving hobby saved me from being blindsided by layoffs
I trained for a free-diving-instructor certification over the weekends. I planned to teach diving as a fun side hustle. At work, I streamed free-diving videos on one of my many monitors — I dreamed of the ocean constantly.
Within six months of my return to Deutsche Bank, it cut my entire global division, with another generous severance payout.
I’d been laid off again, but this time, I wasn’t shocked and upset. I had my free diving to fall back on, which was comforting. Less than a month later, I finished my instructor training in Indonesia’s Gili Islands.
I took time out to travel before starting my successful free-diving business
Between July 2019 and November 2020, my girlfriend and I were nomadic. We bounced around Chiang Mai, Thailand; India; Hong Kong; Taiwan; and Las Vegas. When the pandemic hit, we headed back to Taiwan.
After settling back into life in Xiaoliuqiu, I landed my first free-diving student — a close friend. Slowly, I built my business through word of mouth and online marketing.
I started by hosting one three-day course a week, teaching two students at a time. I eventually became a full-time free-diving instructor, teaching four to six days a week.
Finding students can be challenging, but I advertise on social media, and many students find me on my website.
My target students are white-collar professionals stuck behind a desk. I want to inspire them to get out into the ocean for their mental and physical health.
I just turned 50, I make about $2,000 a month, and I’m happier than ever. I’m not rich, but I’m immensely grateful for free diving. It’s healed my fibromyalgia. I’ve been symptom-free for two years, and in that time, I’ve not suffered any panic attacks.