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 Learning from a Bond Trader 

Picture of Michael Santos

Michael Santos

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This self-directed lesson represents part of the Prison Professors ongoing course series to teach and inspire people in jail and prison.

Learning from a Bond Trader

  • This lesson helps readers understand that regardless of where we are today, we can begin sowing seeds to prepare for a brighter future.

Course Outcome:

  • This lesson will help participants develop a vocabulary.
  • This lesson will help participants develop critical-thinking skills

Lesson Requirements:

  • Watch the video that accompanies the lesson.
  • Write a definition of each word highlighted in bold and written in italics.
  • Use ten of the vocabulary words in a sentence.
  • Respond to three of the open-ended questions at the end of the lesson.

At Prison Professors, we have a duty and a responsibility. Besides teaching people going into the prison system, we strive to teach and inspire people who are serving time in jails and prisons across America.

How do we work toward that end?

We reach out to find leaders in society. Those leaders help us in many ways. They teach us that people can start from any level, and from any background. The decisions a person makes along the course of life open strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Regardless of what good decisions a person makes in the past, at any given time, a person may make a bad decision. Likewise, regardless of what bad decisions a person has made in the past, a person can start making good decisions.

It’s all part of the human journey. The more people we learn from, the more we empower ourselves. Lessons from others can help us reach a higher potential.

In today’s lesson, we learn from Matt. He has an extraordinary life, a life with many lessons. My challenge for you is to listen to our interview with Matt. Then write down the takeaways that make the most sense to you.


In this written portion of the lesson, I’m going to reveal what I learned from Matt. If I were in prison, Matt’s story would have motivated me to begin asking several questions, including:

  • What kind of career would align with my interests?
  • What books could I read that would help me prepare for that career?
  • How could document the lessons I learned from those books?

You’ll find value in his story, too, because it gives a real example of what it means to be driven and autodidactic. That’s a college-level word for being self-directed, or self-taught. Matt achieved a high level of success in his career as a bond trader. The salient point in his story, at least for me, was that he began sowing seeds for his career at the young age of 13 years old.

When a person can visualize success, a person can take the next step. As shown in our various courses, and as Matt’s example teaches, a person should document the strategy. Matt revealed to us that he grew up in a Northern New Jersey community. He grew being active in the Catholic church and earned credentials to become an altar boy.

To become an altar boy, Matt had to learn lessons on how he could serve his priest and the Catholic Church. By applying himself and working hard, others within his community learned about Matt’s discipline, his work ethic, and his excellent attitude. As a result, while still a young boy, he began earning an income by working at weddings and other events.

The lesson from Matt’s story, for me, is that at any time, we can begin taking micro steps. Those little steps advance our prospects for new opportunities open. Matt may not have thought about earning an income when he set out to become an altar boy. Yet by applying himself, in one area, he learned new skills. Other people took an interest in his commitment. As those people became aware of him, they opened opportunities that young Matt did not consider—but that would not have been available if Matt had not first invested in self-improvement.

People that succeed always leave clues. They show use the precise steps they took to grow in incremental stages. We simply must observe, then make a decision. If we choose to learn from leaders, we advance prospects for our success. From Matt’s inspiring story, I would have learned that I could use my time in prison to start taking incremental steps that would have made me a better candidate for success upon release.

Matt didn’t grow up in a community of business professionals. Rather, during our discussion Matt told us that his parents reared him in a blue-collar community that was replete with people that earned an honest living as firefighters or police officers. He felt a lot of support and participated in team sports, excelling in the sport of Lacrosse.

Matt grew up in the 1980s. Movies like Wall Street and Bonfire of the Vanities helped made curious about what it would be like to work in the fast-paced world of high finance. As a junior high school student, he began looking for resources that would help him understand more about the financial markets. By reading financial newspapers and books, he mastered self-directed learning, increasing his literacy of influences that drove the market.

All of us can purse that same path. Despite not having access to formal education or sophisticated mentors, at any time we can start looking for resources that will help us become more proficient in disciplines that arouse our curiosity.

Wanting to continue building upon his knowledge, Matt concentrated his studies by focusing on subjects that he believed would advance possibilities for him to work in the finance sector. Although all education is good, Matt believed that if he learned to master subjects in math, statistics, accounting, marketing, and language arts—including English and graphic arts, he believed more opportunities would open.

Besides being a disciplined student in high school, Matt’s story suggested that he also considered sports to be excellent preparation for the career he wanted to build. Sports would help him learn to work together with a team. The team grows strongest when all people work together to achieve a common goal.

My distinguished himself in the classroom, and on the athletic field. He served in student government, and his peers nominated him for training as a Eucharistic Minister. Clearly, he placed a high importance on living as a good citizen and good member of his community.

Other people noticed Matt’s 100% commitment to life as a student athlete. He didn’t get diverted with the kind of reckless behavior that could derail prospects for his success. He maintained a strict diet, adhered to directions, and put the team first. When it came time to advance to the next level, Lacrosse coaches at St. Joseph’s, a Division I university in the Philadelphia area, offered Matt an opportunity to matriculate.

While at St. Joseph’s Matt earned his bachelor’s degree with a concentration on accounting and marketing classes. Despite earning a degree from a great university, Matt did not feel entitled to a career. In fact, he told us that he felt he need to learn more about how the markets worked. He pursued a job with Fitch, one of three prominent firms that assess the relative strength of a bond offering.

What is a Bond?

Matt helped us understand the difference between debt and equity. I understand him to describe debt as money we owe. Equity, on the other hand, is something we own. In business, some people raise capital by selling equity in a company. By selling equity, the business owner may divide the company into shares. If an owner needs financial resources to build his venture, he may divide his company into many shares, and sell a percentage of those shares to other investors. When a business owner chooses to sell shares, or equity, the business owner would sacrifice a segment of control, or ownership.

In many cases, it makes sense for a business owner to sell equity. In other cases, a business may want to raise capital through a debt offering. In other words, the business owner will ask to borrow money from investors. The investors may offer the debt, or bond, at either a fixed or variable interest rate. When a business owner raises capital with debt, the owner may still own the entire company—but the company will have an obligation to repay the debt in accordance with the terms of the bond, or debt offering.

A company like Fitch, where Matt began his career, specializes in rating the relative strength of the bond. The United States of America borrows money every day by selling bonds. Investors consider a U.S. Bond to be the strongest, highest performing debt in the world. If the United States borrows money by issuing a bond, investors can rest assured that the entire US Government guarantees that our country will repay the debt in accordance with the terms of the bond. For that reason, governments from around the world, corporations, and citizens buy bonds when they want absolute security. In exchange for that security, the bonds offer a relatively low yield. In other words, investors can lend money to the US Government by buying US bonds, but the interest rate on US bonds will be lower than other forms of debt.

Matt explained to us that if investors want to earn higher interest rates on bonds, they may purchase municipal bonds, corporate bonds, or securitized debt instruments, like mortgage-backed bonds. All of those bonds pay an interest rate that would be higher than a US Government bond. They would also come with a higher level of risk.

Matt chose to improve upon his education on how to rate bonds. Fitch, along with the two other bond-rating agencies, Standard and Poor’s, and Moody’s, offered this service of assessing the relative strength of a bond. They would consider myriad factors to determine whether a corporation had the fortitude to withstand market fluctuations. After all, if a borrower didn’t have the wherewithal to repay the bond, or to repay the bond in accordance with the stated terms, the investor could potentially lose.

While working at Fitch, Matt developed an expertise in a discipline that truly interested him. He learned all the nuances that rating agencies would rely upon when determining whether a company had merit. As a result of his acumen of the bond market, the marketplace became more aware of him. More lucrative career opportunities opened for him.

In time, Matt leveraged his strengths and opened his own financial services firm that served the bond industry—specializing in sophisticated debt instruments.

As with examples of other leaders, in Matt’s story we see a true commitment to personal development. He never stopped investing in himself. If we want to achieve our highest potential, we must grow in incremental stages. Yet even if we achieve a high level of success, we’re all human beings and we’re all vulnerable to the vicissitudes of life. We will face good times, and we will face bad times. The onus is on us to respond with dignity, courage, and temperance.

Setback and Recalibration:

Despite investing so much time to prepare for the career of his childhood dreams, like all human beings, Matt encountered some problems. His closest friend died of a drug overdose. A week later, his father passed away from a deadly and painful form of cancer. Financial pressures led him to make some bad decisions. Those bad decisions led to a government investigation. Authorities charged him with white-collar crimes. He pleaded guilty to those crimes. When we spoke, a sentencing hearing loomed ahead.

Matt tells us about the efforts he’s making to build a new career. The early investment he made in developing his education and skillset influences his ability get back on track.

Besides working to rebuild his career, Matt wanted to recalibrate with society. He reached out to our team at Prison Professors, wanting to make a contribution of time. Understanding the possibility of imprisonment awaited him, he began researching programs that have an influence on vulnerable populations. When we connected, Matt asked how he could help. I invited him to contribute by sharing his story and helping me to write a lesson plan.

We’re grateful to Matt for helping us develop coursework that we use to teach more than 100,000 people in jails and prison across America.


  • As stated through each one of the Prison Professors lessons, I never ask anyone to do anything that I’m not doing. When Matt volunteered to share his story with me, I listened, I took notes, and I wrote out what I learned. This continuous exercise in communication skills and critical thinking helps me to develop skills. I use those skills to build a life of meaning, relevance and dignity. You can do the same. Here is your task:
    • Choose any two questions below.
      • Write a 300-word essay for each.
      • Use at least five of the vocabulary words highlighted in bold and italicized in this article.
      • Send your article to [email protected] and we’ll send you a free book that you can use to grow through the journey ahead.
  1. What would you say Matt’s story says about his commitment to building a better society?
  2. In what ways would you say the goals Matt said aligned with the values by which he lived?
  3. How would you define Matt’s commitment to excellence?
  4. In what ways does Matt’s journey relate to your journey, or differ from your journey?
  5. What action steps did Matt take to prepare for the career that he chose?
  6. What does Matt’s story say about the way that he holds himself accountable?
  7. In what ways does Matt’s story show that he wants to stay abreast of the marketplace?

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