The game on foreign exchange was about to start. For the past weeks we had been teaching about how the international markets worked coupled with some basic education on economics. We had bonded with them and spent most evenings drinking and partying. They were so excited and in the afternoons they went back to their day jobs. That meant we could rest and recover for the next event.
It was to be a game that would test their ability to deal and react to changes in markets and a prize would be awarded to the pair who had made the most profit. Each pair was given a name, dedicated extension number and a small flickering TV screen. They started by preparing their rooms and establishing who would do the dealing and who would record the trades. It was clear that initially the men would be the boss, no changes there then! They could call each other and of course us in the control room where we acted as the Central Bank. Each group started with a notional $2,000,00. Behind my desk was a white board where each bank had a column for their daily profit and loss amounts. Savannah Bank was providing live feeds of information from their Reuters system so as to give a realistic sense of what was happening outside. I decided we would have a few minutes each morning to discuss the Nigerian economic news then followed by an hour of trading, then coffee and another hour. I had hoped by then they would all disappear for lunch.
We had three days left in Lagos and there was no time to lose. I was really looking forward to seeing my son Louis. David was getting nervous and worried that he might not see Manchester again. The bank management were curious about how things were going and before we started they trooped in to discuss the progress so far. It was clear that some were really doing well and we had reached not only currency dealing, but currency options and futures too. The management announced a prize of $500 would be given to the winning bank each day. I just prayed that the telephone system would work.
The teams had dressed up even more. The boys had starched white shirts with an array of biros in the breast pocket, almost a uniform for clerks in Nigeria. The girls wore even more brilliantly coloured dresses, their faces glistening, lips embellished with heavy red and hair held down with oil. We had the morning economic discussion and they disappeared to their rooms and so the game started. I waited in the control room and I could hear nothing, not even a dull chatter throughout the building. I checked the telephone wires, they seemed to be connected and mused that if it was real money they would be out of sight within seconds with dollar bills stuffed into pockets.
I had instructed them to use the Nigerian Naira as the opposing currency. As the control acting as the Central Bank I had to get this going with buying and selling. I was going to throw in various trading ideas as a customer and would be in the game. To prime the engine I decided to tell them that Naira interest rates were to be raised by 1% over the day. The theory was that they might sell their dollars and buy Naira to cash in on that move. They knew that Nigeria was an exporter and dollars were the national income, after all who wants Naira whatever the interest rate.
Silence. I posted the increase in interest rates and still nothing happened, so I called one group.
‘Hello, this is Customer Custard, is that Bank Bananas?’
‘Hello yes this is Bank Bananas, how can I help?’
‘What is your Naira exchange rate? I want to buy some dollars?’’
‘You must wait.’
And with that the line went dead.