Blind Trader at StanChart Grooves to Currency Moves in His Ear

Jul 14, 2016, 12:54 AM

The following podcast was recorded for use by customers of Minnesota’s State Services for the Blind. You can get more information about State Services for the Blind and the services it offers by going to www (dot) mnssb (dot) org. I’m Stuart Holland. (music) Blind Trader at StanChart Grooves to Currency Moves in His Ear 16 / 26

Bloomberg Anto Antony (Bloomberg) -- Feeling his way with a white cane, Vishal Agrawal, 29, reaches his foreign exchange trading desk on the fifth floor of Standard Chartered Plc’s office in Mumbai’s business district each day by 8:00 a.m. While his eight other colleagues watch blinking screens to make trades, Agrawal listens to price movements on the trading terminal via special speech-recognition software feeding into a device in his left ear. “I hear the moves and make trades,” Agrawal, who turned blind nine years ago, said in an interview on the floor where he started as an emerging markets trader in September 2013. “With technology to help me, I don’t find it harder to trade, in spite of my visual impairment.” He’s doing as well as many of his fellow traders and has potential to grow further in the company, said Gopikrishnan MS, Agrawal’s boss and the Mumbai-based head of foreign exchange, rates and credit for South Asia at Standard Chartered. Agrawal’s trading limits have steadily increased since he started, Gopikrishnan said without providing more details, citing company policy. But that’s a sign that Agrawal is good at his job. India has more blind people than any in the world, with 5.4 million, and the visually impaired are often stigmatized by employers who fear the disability will impede their work and won’t hire them, said Bhushan Punani, executive secretary at the Blind People’s Association in India. Successes like Agrawal’s “are few and far between,” he said. “Till the stigma that society attaches to the blind is done away with, it is a tough battle for them to do well in a career,” said Punani. Standard Chartered aims to be the employer of choice for banking professionals with disabilities, and has hired some visually impaired people in senior roles around the world, a Mumbai-based spokesman said, without specifying how many. Additionally, the bank has hired disabled people for entry-level sales jobs in nine countries, he said. Other Traders There are only a handful of known blind finance professionals in the world. Wall Street has at least two blind women: Laura Sloate, who co-founded Sloate Weisman Murray & Co. and manages the Strong Value fund; and Lauren Oplinger, who works in municipal bond sales at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in New York. A blind money manager at BlueCrest Capital Management, Ashish Goyal, who had previously been a London-based portfolio manager at JPMorgan, left BlueCrest in May. He served as a mentor to Agrawal when he was looking for a job, he said by telephone from London. “I told Vishal that all he needs to find is a person who is willing to take a chance on him,” Goyal said. “Once you find that person who will give you a break, then knowledge is going to be the key and performance is the only thing that matters, whether you have an impairment or not.” Agrawal was diagnosed with the degenerative eye disease retinitis pigmentosa in 2004 as he was preparing to leave for undergraduate study in the U.S. Constrained by the diagnosis, he settled for studying accounting close to his home in Mumbai. Agrawal, who had been planning to follow his father into his diamond trading business, started to read voraciously using a Kindle after his diagnosis. With his Kindle’s screen reader, which provides audio reading the text aloud, Agrawal spent hours a day learning about finance and technology. He also listened to business news channels. No Job By the time he graduated in 2008, Agrawal was unable to see. Still, he had his mind made up about making a career in trading and investing in capital markets. But he found that none of the local brokerages or tra...