Outages at Interactive Brokers, Robinhood Leave Stock Traders Furious
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S.(Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg)

Outages at Interactive Brokers, Robinhood Leave Stock Traders Furious

Interactive Brokers Group Inc. apologized to clients in a letter Monday evening, after an outage left some users unable to trade for hours while markets were open.

The brokerage said its issues, which drew fury from customers, stemmed from a “high availability” data system provided by another company, which it didn’t name.

“The system was specifically designed to minimize the likelihood of the kind of technology failure that we experienced and it has performed well to date,” said Chief Executive Officer Milan Galik in the message to customers, a copy of which was obtained by Bloomberg News. “Nonetheless, it did not work as expected today.”

Outages at Interactive Brokers, Robinhood Leave Stock Traders Furious

The hardware problem occurred in a Secaucus, New Jersey-based data center called Equinix NY5, said a person familiar with the matter earlier Monday, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because those details weren’t publicly shared.

Shares of the Greenwich, Connecticut-based company slid 2.9%.

The company said most clients had been able to access most services by late morning, but “any technology can fail, and we take the quality and resiliency of our systems very seriously.”

Still, many users felt burned by the lapse in service.

Leonardo Cruz, a 34-year-old purchasing manager from Ajax, Ontario, in Canada, decided this morning that he was closing his main account, which he has held for the past two years. He said he spent three hours trying to log into the platform but was unsuccessful.

“I’m definitely frustrated, I base my transactions on market research and pre-market trends,” said Cruz, who estimated the disruption cost him $300. “Mornings like these make the whole day unproductive, I can’t recover the missed opportunities.” Another glitch last week lost him $3,000, he said.

Other customers to took to Twitter during the day with their complaints. Interactive Brokers’ issue is the latest in a series of disruptions at firms large and small that have received more scrutiny amid a boom in retail trading during the pandemic.

Some customers were frustrated by a lack of help. Eric Ince, a 37-year-old business owner from East Moriches, New York, was in the middle of a trade when his Interactive Brokers account froze at 6:48 a.m.

“I got nervous, and I panicked,” Ince said. By 9 a.m., he was down $2,700.

He called the customer service line, but it sent him to voice mail. The company’s online chats weren’t working either, Ince says, and he couldn’t locate an email address to ask for support. He had to wait until 9:50 a.m. for the issue to be partially fixed.

“I still can’t get on their website,” Ince said. “It was the worst time for me.”

The breakdown at Interactive Brokers coincided with a brief and apparently unrelated outage at Robinhood Markets, the one-click trading app that has surged in popularity during the pandemic and drawn millions of customers.

A spike in individual investing this year has buoyed the entire brokerage industry. Retail equity orders accounted for 20% of U.S. stock trading in the past quarter, up more than five percentage points from the prior year, according to Bloomberg Intelligence research.

But as much as the boom in stock trading by individuals has been a hallmark of this year, so has service disruptions at the online brokerages. What’s more, customers have also reported hacks into their brokerage accounts. Access to more than 10,000 email login credentials allegedly tied to Robinhood accounts were available for sale at one point, Bloomberg reported in October.

There’s “an active, secular shift toward retail trading,” which means platform operators should invest in more capacity to keep up with demand, said Rich Repetto, an analyst at Piper Sandler & Co. The influx of new clients using trading apps can strain capacity on busy days, he said.

Robinhood said it had resolved Monday’s problems with its own platform. A spokeswoman for TD Ameritrade Holding Corp., meanwhile, said it wasn’t experiencing any disruptions even though some customers had logged complaints about the service on Downdetector’s website.

“These providers have got to provide a consistent experience to the user or they will lose that big surge in growth they’ve had,” said Eric Diton, president of the Wealth Alliance, an investment advisory firm. “They’ve got to fix those technology issues.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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