Young women of colour navigate the risky world of forex trading

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For 21-year-old Lina Khalid, it’s her grandmother’s dream of visiting Mecca that drives her while trading currency.

“I’m gonna do it. Even if I have days where I’m not going to sleep, I’m gonna do it,” she says. A car for herself, some Air Jordans for her sister and being able to spoil her mum would also be nice, she adds.

The Wolf of Wall Street is what comes to mind for most people when thinking of the world of high-stakes finance, but Khalid, who works as a dental nurse, says she is one of a growing number of young women of colour who have taken up foreign exchange (forex) trading during lockdown, whilst remaining conscious of the risks.

The risks are significant and have led many to advise young people against taking part in currency trading, one of the riskiest form of trading there is. While traders who work in banks work with other people’s money, those who do it at home take a huge gamble with their own – and risk losing their life savings.

Khalid and 20-year-old Cheila Gongo Balde, who took up currency trading after she was furloughed, feature in a Channel 4 online short called The Wolf of High Street, along with two other women. The short film follows the group as they navigate the risky world of forex trading, while supporting each other in group chats, sharing tips and advice.

The film explores how social media, including YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok, has introduced a new generation to trading. Technology has simplified the process: people can now download an app and start trading from their phones.

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Ayo Akinwolere, a broadcaster who co-owns Milk First, the production company behind the short film, with Alex Thomas, says they were keen to capture both the highs and lows of this industry. He describes the women as being part of a growing trend among young people to find “side hustles” to survive in the cities they have grown up in.

“What’s important … is that we tell an authentic story about the people we were talking to. These are all young women that grew up in areas like the ones me and Alex grew up in,” he says.

Kia Commodore, the 22-year-old founder of Pennies to Pounds, a financial literacy platform created to demystify the world of finance for young people, agrees there has been an explosion of interest in finance. As well as trading, many are also keen to learn more about investing since the country first went into coronavirus lockdown.

View image in fullscreenKia Commodore, the founder of Pennies to Pounds. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

Commodore says those interested fall into two camps. “There’s people who during the pandemic have lost jobs or income. They have to tighten their belts and try to get through this period as best as they can. Then there’s some people who have been unfazed by this or even managed to get salary increases in this time. As they’re not travelling to the office any more, they’ve cut down on costs and there is this extra pool of money.”

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Before lockdown, Pennies to Pounds had 4,000 followers across its social media accounts. It now has almost 10,000 followers on Twitter and 20,000 on Instagram, as well as a podcast. People come seeking advice on pensions, mortgages and credit cards.

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While Commodore has welcomed the increased interest, she stresses there is an important difference between trading and investing, and wants young people to focus on the latter. “We’re not looking to make a return in the next half hour, we’re looking to make a return in the next five years.”

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The women in the film speak openly about the predatory undercurrent driving the increased interest in forex trading. The Financial Conduct Authority has warned people are increasingly being targeted by “unauthorised forex trading and brokerage firms offering the chance to trade in foreign exchange, contracts for difference, binary options, crypto-assets and other commodities” and offering “very high returns and guaranteed profits”.

It is an issue of which Khalid is all too well aware: a fraudster on Instagram told her she could easily turn £200 into a huge profit, but disappeared shortly after she had transferred the money.

“I was in my room and I was miserable and depressed,” Khalid says. But her experience of being scammed did not put her off, and she decided to teach herself as much as she could about trading.

Balde has done the same. “I’ve never seen anyone in my immediate family just be comfortable. It’s always been a struggle and it’s just come to show me that yes you can be comfortable, yes you can be successful.”

As for Khalid, it’s the support system around her that keeps her motivated. She has teamed up with a close friend to trade together. “She texts me trades, I text her trades. We analyse the market on FaceTime together.”

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Both women are keen to stress that currency trading is not a get-rich-quick scheme – despite what some may say on social media. They urge people to not part with money they can’t afford to lose.

Commodore also warns people off signing up to things promoted by influencers. “Deciphering whether it’s good or not is to understand what they’re actually going to give you. If they’re promising you money, how does that work? Is it you’ll get money based on bringing people in? Or is that you get money based on how we teach you how to trade and you trade yourself?”

Commodore added for many, there is a strong sentiment to “give back” to their families and communities. “I think it’s the way we go about doing it and making sure we’re doing it in a way that is ethical and has longevity in it.”