Diego Alphonso Dias, known in the bank as DAD, was truly paternal.
He was a veteran in the bank and the head of finance, having risen from the lowly rank of OBC (office slang meaning ‘ordinary bloody clerk’ – no offense intended to anyone) to this elevated position by dint of sheer hard work, meticulous attention to detail and a benign personality.
The entire Goanese staff looked up to him as a father figure and he, in turn, dispensed wisdom and empathy to all and sundry.
Unfortunately, despite his many excellent qualities and skills, he knew absolutely nothing about foreign exchange except to tally the daily profit figure, which had to land at his desk at 10am sharp every morning.
Yet, in the absence of any other suitable candidate (because no one else knew anything about forex either) he had been made the boss of the foreign exchange dealing room where my partner and I toiled.
A word of explanation.
We had been shoved into the dealing room without any training. We were completely clueless about the intricacies of the forex market.
Actually, it did not matter much because our bank was a minnow in the forex market, just covering sundry merchant transactions. A $100,000 deal was a landmark because our usual transaction size was $25,000.
One day this changed, though we were unaware of it when it happened.
My partner was sitting at the telex machine and I was slouching over an old magazine – a typical boring day with nothing happening.
“Hey, come here, quick,” he said.
I ran to the telex and saw this exchange of messages between our sister bank in Dubai and my partner.
“Hi hi, friends, Pound Rup please,” – Dubai wrote.
“Hi hi friends, 6.3450-80”. (Note: those were the days of indirect rates, Rs100 = X units of foreign currency.)
“OK one pound yours.”
“One Pound? GBP1.00?” (My partner was evidently perplexed.)
“Yes, GBP 1.00,” was the reply.
My partner looked at me. I nodded.
“OK, one Pound mine at 6.3480.” (Note: With indirect rates, you would “Buy Hi – sell Lo.”)
"Thanks very much for the deal.” (Was there a hint of sarcasm in my partner's next comment?)
My partner and I looked at each other. One Pound? Was he joking?
“Let’s ask Dad.”
We went to seek Dad’s wisdom.
Dad looked at the telex printout for a long time, sighed, and looked at us.
“Must be a joke, Sir,” my partner said.
“Yes, I agree. Just ignore it,” Dad replied.
So, we ignored the whole matter, did not write a deal ticket and naively plodded through another hum-drum day.
Next morning there was a yell of consternation from the telex machine where my partner was checking the overnight messages.
“Oh My God!!”
It was a confirmation message from Dubai.
“We confirm having sold to you GBP1,000,000 (GBP one million) at 6.3480 value DDMMYY. Settlement through etc etc”.
We were completely flabbergasted. Did one pound mean one million pounds?
Fortunately, the pound had strengthened a little against the rupee overnight, and we made a nice windfall profit in covering the position.
Then I called a forex broker with whom we had a good rapport.
“Hey, Shashi, what does one pound mean?”
“Why, one million Pounds, of course” was the reply.
“And one dollar, does it mean one million dollars?”
“Yes…… what…” was the puzzled reply.
I quickly put the phone down. It would not do to display ignorance, especially to a broker, because the story would go through the market like wildfire.
Yes, we were very, very lucky that day.
But beware, if your boss is as ignorant as you are, trouble looms ahead, unless you are really lucky.
(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.)