A shock move by the Swiss National Bank left a group of British investors suddenly in debt. One investor, who staked less than £10,000, now faces losses of £250,000
Hundreds of investors with Britain’s biggest spread betting firm, IG (LSE: IGG.L - news) , say the firm is to blame for losses totalling £18.4m which were racked up in minutes as a result of wild currency swings in January.
Spread betting is an increasingly popular, but highly risky, form of speculating where both gains and losses can vastly exceed the original stake.
The group of 370 IG customers, who wish not to be named, blame the broker’s systems for failing to allow them to “close” or settle their positions before losses grew too large. In the worst case one investor, who had staked less than £10,000, now faces losses of £250,000.
They have complained to the watchdog, the Financial Conduct Authority, and are considering other avenues.
- Return of the booze cruise? £4-a-bottle saving prompts stampede
- History's lesson on whether the pound will rise or fall around the election
- Watch Katie Morley expose the fake Ferrrai shares being flogged by sham adviser
Like many spread-betters, this group was hoping to garner quick profits from currency movements in particular, they were betting on movements in the Swiss franc.
Investors knew these bets were risky, but they say they were not fully aware of the extent of the risk they had taken on. On January 15 this year, they experienced unprecedented and devestating losses.
This was because the Swiss National Bank the equivalent of the Bank of England suddenly withdrew its intervention from the currency market, causing the franc to soar.
In its advertising material, IG claims to be able to execute trades within 0.1pc of a second, a feature that should offers clients a layer of protection when prices move “the wrong way”.
However, as stated in IG’s terms and conditions, this is not always possible. If everyone is trying to trade at the same time, and in the same way, the market can seize up.
A number of IG customers say the broker took over 30 minutes to close their positions in the Swiss franc, by which time the outcome for those who had betted the wrong way was catastrophic.
A spokesperson at IG described the event as a “one in 40 year occurrence”, and said it was not able to settle clients’ positions earlier because of a lack of liquidity.
But a number of IG customers allege that IG is using this as an excuse and that its systems failed at the crucial moment.
IG refutes these claims.
This is one aspect of their case the investors hope the Financial Conduct Authority will investigate.
In addition, they allege they were offered too much “leverage”, meaning that they lost far more than they claim they ever believed to be possible. Following the incident, IG has significantly reduced the leverage customers are offered when trading the Swiss franc. Previously, investors could gain or lose up to 100 times their original stake. This has since been reduced to 20 times.
One investor, who spoke to Telegraph Money, claimed he had his “life savings” tied up in an IG account, and lost in the region of £300,000. Despite now earning £70,000 a year, he is “skipping lunches and has reduced spending on luxuries to zero”, he claimed, so he can settle his account with IG without having to sell his home.
Other investors, also claiming to be on modest salaries including one trainee teacher say they, too, face losing their homes or going bankrupt as a result of the losses they incurred.
Another investor, who wishes to remain anonymous, said: “I have lost everything after two decades of work. I am extremely angry about the situation and feel IG has acted in an appalling manner.”
He said IG failed to initiate a “stop loss” which was supposed to kick in when the franc reached a certain value. “Smoke and mirrors don’t change the fact that they executed our orders 30pc below our stop loss. If they were unable to transact on our behalf why would they take the trades and give 100 times leverage to begin with?”
An IG spokesman insisted no terms were breached and all orders, including stop losses, were executed as soon as possible. It assured Telegraph Money it would seek to avoid bankrupting its clients, or making them homeless.
= What is spread betting and why is it so risky? =
Spread betting allows you to speculate on the price movements of thousands of markets. It is used in sports such as horse racing and football, but increasingly in financial markets covering indices, shares, currencies and commodities. Spread bets allow investors to speculate on price movements, irrespective of whether the markets are rising or falling. Profits are tax free.
Losses and gains can far exceed your original stake, adding to the attraction and risk. IG, the pioneer spread betting firm, is based in the City of London and has other divisions including a stock broker service.
For more investment news and ideas, bookmark telegraph.co.uk/investing or like us at facebook.com/telegraphinvesting
• Sign up to our weekly newsletter by entering your email here