Proof of the various ways CFD providers will rip you off

Summary:
- Contracts For Difference (CFDs) are derivatives that allow people to make highly leveraged bets on the change (up or down) in the value of an underlying asset - shares, indices, commodities, and currencies all over the world. Over 170,000 Australians are clients and over 70% lose money trading CFDs. ASIC is finally proposing to reduce the harm of CFDs but its regulations don't go far enough. Legal ripoffs, rigged systems, and unfair practices will continue to exist; I provide proof below.

- Avoid using CFDs and Binary Options. If in the 5% of investors genuinely sophisticated enough to need them, do your research on the potential ripoffs, costs and risks before you trade and act accordingly (e.g. don't assume fairness, assume complete unfairness and protect yourself proactively.)



Details:

Note: There are more ripoffs and unfair practices yet to be included below. I will be updating them as I have time to obtain the proof. If you have evidence of illegality, ripoffs and unfair practices by Australian CFD providers please get in touch and I will add further examples to this post.


1. The Trade: Open a short position in Tesla (TSLA) at $928 on the day it had its blow-off FOMO all time high

- IG Markets Australia uses 20-1 leverage for this market (even higher for other markets) as the more leverage it provides the more money it makes as its revenue is completely correlated with dollars traded.

- However, like all providers offering leverage this way, the rules for margin calls and liquidation are made wholly by the provider for its benefit.

- The chart below nicely captures the rigged game offered by CFD providers. They induce you to take on massive leverage (you can't decline it or lower the ratio). If the trade goes in your favour straight away they collect their various daily charges on the whole position even though they don't actually lend you money. But if the trade moves against you temporarily (in this case by less than 3% in a stock they know moves over 20% in a day) they'll close you out with 30 minutes notice while you're asleep.


- Why not wait for the client to wake up and see if they are going to transfer the margin call top-up? It would seem to be a bizarre way to sacrifice 98% of client's (who aren't one-off scammers) trust and future business. It certainly suggests all CFD providers have these unfair practices or the client could immediately switch to a CFD provider that doesn't. Initially, I wondered if the unwritten rule of trading CFDs is that all new clients get ripped off by these practices at the start, write it off as a lesson learned ("it happens to everyone"), and then keep trading? But then I investigated further and have found a secret scam (see below).




2. Why don't CFD providers use direct debit to automate margin call transfers?  Is there a secret scam at the heart of the CFD industry?

Every client burned by a 30 minute automatic close-out - for example, while they are asleep - would be outraged at not being given a reasonable opportunity to transfer funds. They all must wonder why the CFD provider can't simply set up a direct debit on their bank account for margin calls. If one took the CFD providers at face value (they don't want you to get automatically closed-out) it is an obvious and simple solution.

I suspect the reason direct debit isn't offered is that CFD providers are not simply brokers but use the opportunity of being in a shockingly regulated industry to magnify proprietary trading profits based on being able to utilise close-outs at the extremes of the daily price volatility. Remember CFD trades are not placed in underlying markets. And there is no legal requirement for CFD brokers not to have net positions long or short.

So consider that if IG Markets has a net position short or long in Tesla it can reap close-out profits at either end of the daily price volatility. All client close-out trades (a high proportion of which occur at the extremes of the daily price range) generate losses for the client but the CFD broker does not simply pass through the profits to other traders in the market by adjusting any net position it is carrying at the same prices it has forced on the client. Instead these massive client losses generated daily provide CFD brokers an opportunity to book gains while managing their net position (and risk) at much better prices (not buying at the highs of the day or selling at the lows).

In my automated close-out with Tesla, I would be unsurprised if the $867 loss IG Markets close-out system generated for me went straight into IG Market's pockets! IG Markets has not denied this.

If CFD providers do operate as above, then there is nothing else to call this than a scam. Either no-one in the relevant areas of ASIC or the Australian government department is smart enough to figure this scam out, or they are incompetent (don't think banning such scams is their job or worth the effort) or, even worse, have quietly accepted that such ripoffs are to be tolerated (known as "regulatory capture".)


3. Is ASIC going to do anything about unfair automatic margin close-outs?

- It proposes to cap client losses at 50% of their investment but this doesn't protect clients who wouldn't have suffered any loss had their position been left open for more than 30 minutes after the automated email requesting funds. Indeed, the unintended consequence of ASIC's proposal is that CFD providers could be even more unfair in establishing leveraged positions but not giving clients adequate time to deposit funds or reduce exposure without automated close-outs - which happen at the worst trading prices. I have sent this example to ASIC asking them to explain how their reforms would protect Australians from this unfairness. I will post any reply here.

ASIC's Proposal:

"Condition 2: Margin close out protection

182 This condition standardises the common market practice of automatic margin close-out to ensure consistent and fair application to all retail clients.

183 This condition is intended to reduce consumer detriment by limiting retail client losses to around 50% of their investment (compared to current market practice, which we have observed can be up to 90%). This protects retail clients from excessive losses in their CFD positions from unexpected sudden changes in the price of underlying assets

- Interestingly, Kevin Algeo, IG Markets Australia CEO, supports ASICs reforms: "IG Markets fully supports initiatives that are designed to strengthen client outcomes. We continue to be in close and regular contact with ASIC, supporting its efforts to introduce robust and proportionate regulation in the margin FX and CFD sector."

- Presumably, CFD providers have little issue with capping client losses on a single trade at 50%, especially if those losses are engineered by the rigged game that protects the provider.

As I've proven in my case, the loss was created by the CFD provider (not natural volatility of markets), so why is ASIC forcing Australian investors to eat these losses? By reviewing this practice and leaving it intact as "reformed" it is essentially rubber-stamping it!

- Amazingly, ASIC's own consultation paper provides the evidence that its proposal won't address the bigger issue:

"Analysis by the UK FCA showed that for the currency pair USD/GBP, at a leverage ratio of 500:1 and a 50% automatic margin close-out, retail clients who do not make an additional investment over a two-hour span would:

(a) be automatically closed out and on the losing side of the trade 81% of the time; and
(b) either lose all of, or more than, their initial margin 44% of the time."

It beggars belief that ASIC is aware that the core business model of current leveraged CFD practice (including with their proposed 50% close-out rule) creates these client losses but isn't doing anything directly to constrain automatic close-outs. Currency pairs over such short timeframes are a "random walk." There is no market reason for such high automated close-out rates or clients to lose 80% of the time in a two hour period.


4. But what about the "Massive Market Range" of CFDs?


- Trading on thousands of markets all over the world running around the clock sounds great in theory. But not a single CFD provider promises not to give you ultra short-notice (e.g. 30min) margin calls while you are asleep (e.g. 11pm to 8am).

To reiterate the warning: IG Markets Australia opened my position at 1:50am, gave me a margin call at 6:53am, and closed out 55% of my position 30 minutes later at 7:23am. I was asleep the whole time!!

Here's the proof:


Not only has IG Markets not apologised for this and refunded the losses but it has completely neglected to respond to my formal complaint.

Conclusion: The 24/7 trading of CFDs will be used unfairly against clients - they can't ever be asleep for longer than 20 minutes otherwise their positions will be closed out at a forced loss.

Meanwhile, in their PDS IG Markets pretends that the requirement to "monitor your positions" is just a reasonable request to check your account or emails regularly enough such as by not going away on holiday and forgetting about open positions.

In reality, their terms are written to allow them to liquidate positions the instant a margin call is triggered and even if no email notification is sent. It is deliberately deceptive to provide the holiday example when they could state clearly to all customers we liquidate positions automatically no more than 30 minutes after your account enters into a margin call even if it's 3am in the morning and you are asleep.






5. But what about the "Effective risk management" of CFD providers?


- Oops, negative balance protection is for UK clients where the regulator requires it. In Australia, no such luck yet! I guess if negative balance protection = effective risk management then there is little commitment to effective risk management in Australia unless forced upon providers?


- As you've seen in my example, the CFD providers use "risk management" to limit their risks, not yours. They'd rather create forced-losses on trades that could obviously be profitable than run a proper risk management system and process regarding deposits/collateral, leverage, margins, margin call requests and timeframes.

It's not hard to design systems and leverage/margin/deposit rules to minimise unnecessary automatic close-outs. But CFD providers appear to have incentives not to do so.

ASIC's proposed "protections" will simply cap some of the most outrageous client losses caused by leverage but they don't deal with the much greater scale of losses caused by the rigged game shown above.

ASIC's consultation paper shows the scale of the automatic close-out issue. Over 9 million positions closed-out by CFD providers to protect themselves while creating client losses.

"In our 2019 review we found that during the period 1 January 2018 to 31 December 2018:

(a) there were over 9.3 million positions that were automatically closed out by CFD issuers for around 1 million active clients;
(b) there were over 41,000 CFD trading accounts that went into negative balance (i.e. the retail client owed money to the CFD issuer); and
(c) the total negative balance (i.e. the total amount owed by those retail clients) was over $33 million."

The proportion of clients who would have been able and willing to make a margin call deposit but had positions automatically closed out before they could do so must be very high - not an exception but more likely a majority. ASIC hasn't collected this data. My estimate is over 70% of Australian clients have been affected adversely at some point.


6. But don't CFD providers value their clients and want them to trade profitably?


- You'd think the long-term businesses would value their clients enough not to rip them off in such short-term ways, even if just to make more money in the long run. But I politely and concisely described the appalling unfairness of IG Market's current system in a formal complaint on the 5th of Feb 2020. It's now the 25th of Feb and I haven't been refunded the loss, had my position restored, or had any explanation or substantive response.

<<
I deposited $3,000 at 10:54pm on 4 Feb 2020. Before midnight I created a limit order to open to sell 40 Tesla contracts no lower than 928. I then went to bed.

When I woke up this morning I found my position had been partially closed by your systems (22 contracts of the 40 were bought back) causing an $863 loss.

Essentially my complaint is that IG Markets should not have opened a position on a stock with this volatility with the deposit and margin buffers IG chose to accept if it is aware such entirely predictable subsequent price changes may lead to such a high rate of IG-forced position closures before a client has even had a chance to wake up, check their email and make a deposit immediately.
>>

IG continues to address the substance of my complaint despite it being referred to the AFCA, ASIC and published on a blog that will be available on Google search indefinitely.


7. But what about the incredible advantage of leverage?



- What CFD providers fail to tell you is that they don't provide leverage on a level playing field as IG Market's illustration above wrongly states.

In my case:

- If my TSLA position moved in my favour without more than 3% price volatility then I could make money. But this is unlikely for each one-off trade in such volatile shares or markets, and actually impossible to win at over the long run (law of averages.)

- But if my TSLA position temporarily moves against me by 3% even if just for 30 minutes and then moves well in my favour, the CFD provider will close me out while I'm asleep and make me eat a substantial loss on what would have been a profitable trade!

Providing leverage in such a defective way is so obviously flawed and counterproductive for clients that CFD providers are currently operating a stacked gambling game rather than an investing service.


8. But aren't Australian CFD Providers trustworthy and regulated by ASIC?




- Oh, you can trust them all right, but only to look after their own interests. And the fact that the extractive, unethical business model I've exposed here has been left untouched by ASIC for decades is not something to boast about!



9. Whistleblowers prepare to be ignored and then sanctioned!

- Tesla is a hot topic and I've shared the story of my attempted short trade with various friends and acquaintances.

It's a simple story that takes just one minute to tell:

"FOMO was in the air so I placed my Tesla short trade at $928 at midnight and went to bed.

When TSLA hit $928 IG Markets opened my short position at 1:50am. When the price later starting rising 3% higher they sent me a margin call email at 6:53am, and closed out 55% of my position 30 minutes later (7:23am) at $954 - locking in a loss. I was asleep the whole time!!

TSLA's price closed shortly after at $887 and traded under $800 for several days after.

So my CFD broker managed to turn a dream TSLA short into a loss! Can you believe this is legal in Australia?"

Fellow investors usually laugh in horror, especially when I tell them Australian CFD brokers are regulated by ASIC!

Non-investors are just amazed and assume CFDs are a gambling product, are unsurprised the "house" has rigged the game, but bemused at how margin calls can apply to gambling?


- You'd think such a simple story would be easy to investigate and respond to once a complaint was lodged?

But IG Markets Australia is still refusing to respond 21 days later and is claiming it needs up to 45 days to do so.

Indeed, they finally replied only after I escalated the complaint to Australia's financial complaints authority (the AFCA) and sent them a link to this public blog post!

Apart from telling me to sit tight and wait up to 45 days this is what they had to say:

From: compliance.au@ig.com <compliance.au@ig.com>
Date: Wed, 26 Feb 2020 at 13:44
<<
Given the nature of your concerns, please also be advised that your account has been suspended from opening any further trades until this matter has been resolved and/or reached a conclusion with AFCA. You will still be able to close any existing positions on your account.

Furthermore, we refer to the blogpost you have recently created which is relating your dispute with IG.  As the matter is currently under investigation, we request that you remove your post until such a point that your complaint has been resolved by us and/or reached a conclusion with AFCA.
>>

Funny, how the analogies with gambling operators get stronger as this story progresses. Malcontents first are ignored and then get suspended - apparently their speculative product is addictive so this could be considered a penalty?

I bet IG Markets would like to completely deny me access to their platform and logged-in version of the website and thus further insights into the extractive operating model used by CFD providers, but that could be a dangerous step to take given how much energy I'm putting into this. They clearly haven't wised up yet.

Perhaps they should do some research on who they are dealing with and how much I know about the financial services industry. They could start by using Google, perhaps find my name here > https://financialservices.royalcommission.gov.au/Submissions/Pages/interim-report-submissions.aspx

Read my submission and follow-up on this blog:
http://makersvstakers.blogspot.com/2018/10/submission-on-interim-report-of-royal.html
http://makersvstakers.blogspot.com/2018/11/has-hayne-royal-commission-been.html

Now make a slightly more educated guess whether someone financially-independent with massive amounts of free time and plenty of capacity is likely to be afraid of CFD broker sanctions? Or how they might respond to being told to remove my entirely-factual public blog post on this issue?

Comments

  1. It is really a helpful blog to find some different source to add my knowledge. Online Cfds Trading

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