What's this?

That's a screen shot of the TD Ameritrade's Mobile Trader help page on my iPhone. Something is going to happen at some time to take you away from your office's trading screen and the familiar platform you're used to studying day in and day out. Traders need a back-up plan for those days.

As I've mentioned previously on these pages, setting contingent orders is one method I use when I know ahead of time that I'll be leaving. Not all platforms offer contingent or conditional orders as flexible as Think-or-Swim's, but most offer some type of such orders.

I set alerts ahead of those contingent orders so that I can go in and work the trade manually if I have access. Sometimes I also set alerts to tell me when the character of my underlying appears to be changing. Here are a set of alerts I recently set before a trip out of town, when I would be away from the markets all day and likely would have limited access to data on country roads.

Alerts Set on the RUT before a Trip:

Why so many alerts? Maybe the following graphic will explain the layering of those alerts.

Here's a note I attached to one of those alerts:

I used to always add the telephone number for the trading desk at TOS, too, but that number is now saved in my iPhone's contact list.

Whatever method you use, the number for your platform's trading desk should be readily available. You don't want to be scrambling for the number if you're between Paige, Texas and Brenham, Texas when coverage is so spotty that you know you won't be able to run your mobile platform and you need to make a trade NOW. That's the reason my alerts tell me the order that I have set or intend to set, as the case might be. You don't want to be scrambling for that number if you're on a trip and get one text after another as another Flash Crash or an extreme rally begins.

If you're not getting texts telling you that your contingent orders are being filled as the underlying goes through those points, you know you've got a fast-market situation on your hands. You're going to need to call the desk to work those orders. Hence, the notes telling you what you intended to do at each level. Don't trust yourself to remember.

Mobile platforms have their limits. Below, you'll find the Analyze page for my live trade when this article was first roughed out a couple of weeks ago, as seen on my office computer.

My Then Live Trade, TOS's Analyze Page on My Office Computer:

This page includes expiration breakevens, the Greeks of the current position, the trade's current profit-and-loss line (PnL) (minus commissions) and a "today" line that lets me at least guestimate what my PnL will do at certain price points.

The mobile platform gives less information. Of course, you'll be provided with the positions you have open. On the TOS mobile platform, I can get a listing of the current Greeks--always helpful to know if you tend to trade by the Greeks--and PnL amount. However, the PnL shows the profit-and-loss of the positions currently open. At least as I've got my TOS page configured, it will not show the $500 loss you realized when you moved five of your butterflies to a higher level or the $700 gain you realized when you rolled your deep-in-the-money hedging call higher. In other words, it doesn't take into effect the realized profits and losses in this trade. It gives back only the profits and losses in the options contracts currently open. My platform does, however, tell me how much my profit or loss has changed since the previous close. If I knew where the trade stood the previous day, I could tell something about how the trade was faring that day.

That doesn't do anything to help me visualize the trade or remember where the expiration breakevens were. Sometimes I take a screenshot and print up the expiration chart from my office computer. On the last trip I took, I used a hot spot to gain access to the laptop, when I knew I was in an area where I had coverage. I sometimes take an old netbook with little but TOS (regular version, not mobile) and OptionNet Explorer loaded on it for that purpose.

Some people tether their computers to their cell phones for coverage. In the past, that has been against the rules of my cell carrier and many other cell carriers. There are ways around that, and platforms that help you get around that. Many people found those ways. I was just too much of a rule-follower to break contract specifications, and my attorney husband would not have been happy if I had violated a contract. However, the FCC recently announced that Verizon Wireless would no longer be blocking tethering apps, with the change made in order to settle an investigation. That blocking of tethering may be changing for all carriers, perhaps? One prepaid cell carrier that has been allowing tethering is Ting, and all the smartphones sold by that carrier are capable of tethering. I've never used this carrier and am not promoting it, but I do know that it allows tethering.

Of course, many people can and do use free Wi-Fi access, finding a library or a Starbucks or other spot. Many of these require signing up ahead of time, so if you plan for this to be your emergency trading choice, sign up ahead of time. Also, research what steps you need to take to keep your financial information secure if you're using public Internet access. This information is sensitive, of course. Do all this well ahead of time.

All my plans were well and good because I could plan. What if you can't? What if your Internet access goes down or someone calls with an emergency that allows you time to do nothing more than gather up your keys and cell phone? When my father taught me to drive, he told me to always know where the other cars were around me. He told me that, in an emergency, I wouldn't have time to look. I'd just have to react.

Even when your trade seems to be doing well, always know where or how it could get into big trouble. Always have an idea what you'd do if that disaster hit. Always have the trading desk's number readily available so that you don't have to look for it.

Some of you will consider yourself techies and will have other solutions for handling those times when you're away from your trading desk, whether due to a planned time away or to an emergency. I don't expect disaster to hit. I can go about my trading life much more happily, however, if I've prepared for it.

Linda Piazza