At long last, Diego Alphonso Dias, known in our bank as DAD, bought our case for a third man in the dealing room, based on the logic that two dealers were needed to do forex trading, one at the Reuters monitor to track the rates and the other at the telex doing the deals. Two months of the year, when either of us was on leave, trading would have to stop and so would the trading profits.
DAD hated spending money and a third dealer would mean more cost. But he loved profits more. By then, our dealing room was making steady profits and no trading for two months would mean a 16.67% (DAD was arithmetically sound) reduction in the annual profit – unacceptable.
So we got our third man, Venkat Gurumurthy.
Venkat was a Tam Brahm, a term I use with deep respect and by no means in a derogatory sense.
His scholastic pedigree was immaculate – IIT/IIM -which guaranteed top-notch 'hardware', i.e., brain power. But alas, his 'software', i.e., bent of mind, was sadly unsuited to the dealing room.
Venkat was totally risk-averse. His mathematical mind could work out in a jiffy how much we would lose if a trading decision went wrong, and that figure scared him off so much that he could not bring himself to make a decision that might result in a loss.
Every morning Venkat would be waiting for us in the dealing room, having arrived early and absorbed, from Reuters, what had happened in New York the previous night and in Tokyo early that morning.
He knew which currency had gone up or down against which other and by how much, what the forecasts were for currency movements in the short term and so on.
He had no need for looking at Reuters to update himself about the market – we could just ask Venkat and hear him rattle it all off.
But Venkat would just not make a decision!
He was happy to write deal tickets, work out forward rates, calculate the daily profit, keep the ‘position’, man the telex and even make tea. But he simply could not bring himself to make a dealing decision.
Two months down the road, my partner and I decided to bring matters to a head.
One morning, my partner and I harangued Venkat mercilessly about his ‘view’ on the cable (pound dollar rate) that day. He hemmed and hawed and came up with six reasons on why the pound could go up and half-a-dozen on why it could go down, but kept sitting on the fence.
Finally, we literally held a gun to his head: “Will the pound go up, or down? Decide, man!”
It was like extracting a tooth. Venkat thought and thought his Adam’s apple bobbed up and down; deep breaths followed; silent lips moved in prayer (Gayatri mantra, maybe), and, finally he said “Up.”
We nodded and carried on with the business of the dealing room. Venkat was mightily relieved – the pressure was off.
At 12.30pm London opened.
I went on the telex, bought two million pounds against the dollar, turned to Venkat, and said “Well, pal, here you are, “long” 2 pounds.”
Venkat’s jaw fell and eyes bulged out, but he could not say a word.
My partner clarified: “You said pound would go up, so we bought pounds. All yours now.”
To rub in some mirchi (chilli powder) and salt, I added “We are going off for a beer. Mind the position, will you?”
“But, but, you can’t do this!” Venkat was practically in tears.
“We ARE doing this,” was our parting reply.
We had our beers and came back after an hour to find that:
- Venkat was glued to Reuters, watching the cable rate.
- His shirt was damp, his tie was askew and his hands were trembling.
- The pound had gone up by 30 pips.
“THANK GOD you are back!!” Venkat said.
“Well done, yaar. You made a profit!! Good show,” we said, but Venkat was still trembling.
It was amply evident that Venkat did not like the thrill of taking risks. He would never make it as a forex dealer.
We convinced DAD to move him out and give us someone else.
That someone else was Vikram. He turned out to be a natural risk-taker. He would greet us in the morning with “Hey guys, Yen is going to go up, big time. I can feel it in my bones. Let us buy a hundred please, shall we?”
In the years to come Vikram would head big dealing rooms and be known as one of the best forex dealers in India.
Venkat did very well, too, but not in the dealing room of course. He went on to be a great operations guy and ended his career as the boss of a huge back-office operation employing tens of thousands of staff.
To each his own, as they say!
(Deserting engineering after a year in a factory, Amitabha Banerjee did an MBA in the US and returned to India. Choosing work-to-live over live-to-work, he joined banking and worked for various banks in India and the Middle East. Post retirement, he returned to his hometown Kolkata and is now spending his golden years travelling the world (until Covid, that is), playing bridge, befriending Netflix & Prime Video and writing in his wife’s travel blog.)