As a trader at JPMorgan Chase in London, Ashish Goyal helps manage billions of dollars of the bank’s exposure to risks like foreign exchange fluctuations. In his spare time, he takes tango lessons, plays cricket and goes clubbing with friends. Goyal is also blind.
Watching him in the middle of the trading floor as he switches back and forth between computer screens, that is not apparent at all. But to check his e-mail, read research reports and look at presentations, Goyal uses a screen-reading software whose speed is so high that it sounds like gibberish to the untrained ear. When he needs to read graphs, which the software cannot do, Goyal goes through the data and tries to imagine the graph in his head.
On his desk, two computer screens show the usual flashing Bloomberg messages and spreadsheets of constantly changing numbers. Two keyboards are linked to headsets through which the information and figures are read out to him at rapid speeds. The same technology reads out text messages he receives on his cellphone.
“My colleagues already complained that they can’t hear my phone speak, as it is too fast,” Goyal said jokingly. “I turn around and say, ‘Well, I can’t read your text messages, so it’s only fair.’ “
Tolga Uzuner, executive director of JPMorgan’s chief investment office and Goyal’s boss, said he hired the 30-year old Wharton graduate because he was one of only a few candidates he interviewed who knew about Asian interest rates, had excellent risk management skills and knowledge of foreign exchange.
Vladimir Aleksic, who now works with Goyal, said: “We walked out of the interview room and just said wow.” Many people on the team analyze historical data and use comparisons to make decisions about risks, Aleksic said, but “Ashish looks at where things are now and just follows the news flow. He’s not blinded by the graphs.”
But as someone who can make out only light and shadows, Goyal also knows his limits. “I told people, ‘You can put me on the spot trading desk, but I’d be too slow,’ “ he said. “The challenges are to realize where I can add value and where I don’t. You need to find your niche.”
Goyal says he always wanted to work in financial markets. But despite a résumé that includes a top business degree from a university in India, another from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and a three-year stint at an Indian subsidiary of ING bank, finding people who would hire him was not easy.
After gaining his first business degree, Goyal said he had made the short list of candidates for jobs at several firms, but once they realized he was blind he was turned away. When it was ING’s turn, Goyal recalled, he was so frustrated that he just blurted: “I’m blind. Do you still want to talk to me or not?”
“They asked whether I could do the job. I said I think I can, and I was hired,” Goyal said.
Years later, when he applied to Wharton with the goal of getting a job in New York or London, Goyal said, the university’s director of admission signed off on his application with the words: “I have never seen a blind trader on Wall Street. I can’t guarantee you’ll get a job but you’ll definitely be better off with a Wharton degree.”
Still, even after Wharton, many Wall Street firms rejected his applications because they could not find anybody else on Wall Street using the same screen-reading software. JPMorgan was the only bank to offer him a summer internship, which led to an offer of a permanent position.
Goyal was not born blind. Growing up in Mumbai, Goyal said he had a normal, happy childhood. But when he was about 9 years old, he noticed that he could not immediately recognize some people and could not see the lines in his notebooks at school. One night he walked into a ditch, later he crashed his bicycle, and then he started to miss the ball during his tennis lessons.
Goyal was told he had retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic condition that damages the retina, and would gradually become blind. By the time Goyal was 22, he had completely lost his eyesight.
The loss of his eyesight left Goyal “scared and confused” and with fewer friends, he said. “I was ready to just give up and not take my final exam and just go and work for my dad,” a real estate developer, Goyal said. But his mother forced him to sit for the exam, and to his surprise he not only passed but received good grades.
Despite his achievements, which this year also included a national award from India for the Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, Goyal speaks modestly of himself.
“One challenge is that I don’t become a benchmark for other people,” he said. “I’ve done all these things but yes, it’s been a struggle. Not everyone is as fortunate to have the support of friends and family and it wouldn’t be fair. I’m mediocre at many things.”