Join our community of smart investors

Investment platforms sag under pressure in market surge

As markets fly, technical problems rear their head
Investment platforms sag under pressure in market surge
  • Customers at some of the major platforms struggled to use their accounts both as markets surged yesterday and today
  • We question whether the main platforms should actually be viewed as trading hubs

Investors wanting to trade on yesterday’s hefty market moves may ultimately have found themselves excluded from the action. With Pfizer’s vaccine news triggering huge shifts in share prices, outages at the big investment platforms have prevented many from acting on it.

Social media has been awash with angry comments from customers of Hargreaves Lansdown (HL.) and AJ Bell's (AJB) Youinvest who were, or in some cases still are, unable to buy or sell holdings. Investors have also cited issues at Fidelity Personal Investing and Vanguard. Some problems appear to have persisted this morning.

In a period of big gains and losses for closely followed stocks, the outages have left many unable to recalibrate their portfolios. One Hargreaves Lansdown user told Investors Chronicle: “I’ve taken losses on stocks I was unable to dispose of and thousands are in the same boat. I also missed opportunities on all the gainers of the day as all indices rallied.”

On Twitter, an AJ Bell user worried that their experience did not bode well for more difficult markets, commenting: “On the one hand at least I’m only missing upside. But what if this had been a correction and you had been preventing me from trading and losing real money?”

Are platforms actually made for trading?

The platforms have cited sheer volume as a driver of technical problems. Hargreaves Lansdown noted that a combination of the vaccine news and greater clarity around the US election outcome had triggered a surge in investor activity, leading to the platform’s busiest ever day for web and app traffic.

AJ Bell, similarly, cited an "exceptional and unforeseen set of circumstances", noting: "Volumes were already high following the presidential election result over the weekend and then the news of a successful vaccine trial sent the market into overdrive. This meant there were some delays in receiving quotes from market makers and it was the busiest day we have ever had on our platform, which compounded the issues."

They, and other platforms, have reassured customers that they have been working to resolve the problems. Fidelity said some users experienced "temporary and intermittent" issues on the day of Pfizer's news, adding: "We acted immediately to increase our capacity and worked overnight to further enhance our service to resolve this issue. There are no reported issues today." 

Vanguard acknowledged on social media that some customers were experiencing slow loading times when accessing their accounts.

Investors may ask whether greater resources should have been dedicated to platform functionality, but the outages also raise questions about what the main platforms are actually for. While the likes of Hargreaves Lansdown, AJ Bell Youinvest and Interactive Investor allow you to buy and sell all manner of holdings, they are arguably a better home for long-term investments than faster, tactical plays.

Many rival names, from IG (IGG) to Degiro, have a much greater focus on the thrill of the trade. It should be noted that, according to IG, a "very small section of clients" have had intermittent delays with charts and pricing on their accounts.