A group of IG clients who racked up millions in losses after betting against the Swiss franc have escalated their dispute with the online trading group, alleging that it is guilty of “systemic failures” in its treatment of customers.
Speaking publicly for the first time, the lawyer representing some of IG’s customers claimed that the problems in January were “a disaster waiting to happen”. Natalia Chumak, a partner at Signature Litigation, said that IG must have been aware that the turmoil that gripped trading in the Swiss franc was an “eventual possibility”.
She pointed to IG’s decision to remove a guarantee to have a floor on potential losses for bets relating to the euro against the Swiss franc. The guarantee had come after the central bank imposed a trading cap on its currency in 2011.
About 350 IG customers ran up losses of roughly £18.5 million on January 15 after the Swiss National Bank unexpectedly scrapped the cap and the Swiss franc surged by 30 per cent against the euro within a matter of minutes. Customers who had bet against the Swiss currency were left nursing heavy losses, with some complaining they did not know the “stop guarantee” was not there and that IG had compounded the issue by delaying exiting their positions.
IG, which also suffered losses, has recouped most of the minimal sums outstanding from customers, but is locked in dispute with a small group who together account for the lion’s share of the outstanding debts. As well as sophisticated traders, among those to sustain the biggest losses were a supply teacher, classical pianist and electrical engineer, although it is not known whether they are represented by Ms Chumak.
Ms Chumak said: “There have been systemic failures by IG at every level. Part of the picture is that IG failed to give its customers best execution of their trades on the day and it was also front-running, offloading its own risks before those of its clients. But there are wider, systemic failures at work that fit into a number of categories but all of which lead to the same conclusion — this was a disaster waiting to happen.”
IG’s disgruntled customers are in the process of pursuing a group complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service. Some have complained to the Financial Conduct Authority, claiming that it has failed to treat customers fairly, and most are thought to be in regular dialogue with IG about the dispute.
Ms Chumak said IG’s customers wanted money that had been wiped off their accounts to be reinstated. They also want it to drop its claim for additional monies they might owe on the ground that the losses were preventable.
IG denied that it had prioritised its own positions, stating that all of the transactions it carried out after the removal of the currency cap were on behalf of customers, with whom it had been fully transparent in line with the rules.
A spokesman said: “IG absolutely maintains it acted in the best interests of its clients and closed all client positions as soon as was possible within the extreme market conditions that prevailed on the day. IG was neutral to the franc at the time of the announcement and executed all of its hedges to close out client exposure, in the best interests of IG clients.
“IG is transparent with its clients, with detailed risk information presented in all advertising, when clients sign up, and also always accessible on the IG website — fully in line with FCA requirements.” IG said that any “remaining affected” clients should make contact so that a means of settling their balances could be agreed, taking into account their circumstances.
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