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Trader sues broker over profits made on ‘demo’ platform

The Financial Times logo The Financial Times 6/22/2018 Martin Arnold in London

an open laptop computer sitting on top of a keyboard: A Bloomberg screen is seen in the FT Newsroom.© Provided by Financial Times A Bloomberg screen is seen in the FT Newsroom. A trainee day trader in France is suing a British brokerage for an amount comparable to almost its entire annual revenue after it seized the €10m ($11.6 million) profit he made using what he initially thought was a demonstration version of its platform.

Harouna Traoré opened a €20,000 ($23,000) account at Valbury Capital, a UK-based brokerage, last summer after using a dummy version of its platform to learn how to trade equity futures as a retail investor on a trading course in Paris.

A couple of weeks later, he was practising trading at home on what he believed to be the demo version — placing €1bn of orders for European and US equity futures — before realising that it was the live platform and he had run up a loss of more than €1m.

He continued trading, eventually building up a $5bn position in US equity futures and turning the loss into a profit of more than €10m. “I could only think of my family,” said Mr Traoré, who is married with two children. “I was stressed.” After he called Valbury a few days later to explain what had happened, the brokerage told him he had breached his contract and his positions were “void and cancelled”.

In January, he filed a writ of summons in the Pontoise district court, north of Paris, claiming breach of contract and negligence by the British brokerage and calling for it to pay him the €10m he says it owes him.

Valbury, which is owned by the eponymous Indonesian financial services group, denies any wrongdoing and is preparing to file its initial submission next week. It is expected to argue that Mr Traoré is not a consumer, but a financial services professional, so the case should not be heard in France, where he would benefit from greater consumer protection.

Robert Falkner, partner at Reed Smith, the law firm representing Valbury, said: “We are familiar with the spurious allegations made by the French arcade trader Mr Traoré (a seasoned market risk analyst formerly employed by Reuters) which are strongly denied as wholly without merit and will be vigorously contested.”

“This matter is now before the courts so that we consider it inappropriate to comment further,” said Mr Falkner, adding that Valbury had kept its regulators at the UK Financial Conduct Authority “fully informed”.

Valbury is expected to point out that Mr Traoré said in his application to open an account that he had traded futures and options frequently. Mr Traoré admitted that he had “tried to embellish my trading experience and professional qualifications at the time, as I thought my application might otherwise not go through as easily”.

According to the court filing by Mr Traoré, which has been seen by the Financial Times, Valbury told him that it had treated the trades he carried out as a “manifest error” because he had thought he was using its demo platform and had not intended to place real orders. The brokerage also told him that he had breached his trading limits.

Mr Traoré’s lawyers at Linklaters said in the filing that the 41-year-old had no prior experience of financial markets and previously worked at Thomson Reuters, selling performance analysis software to investors, before being made redundant last year.

Therefore, they said, he should be considered a consumer and the case should be heard in France. His lawyers also said Mr Traoré should have been prevented from trading such large amounts by preset trading limits that could have been imposed by Valbury.

They disputed Valbury’s suggestion that his orders were a “manifest error” — the definition usually given to fat-finger trading mistakes — because most of the profits were only made once he realised he was trading on the live platform.

The stakes are high for Valbury, which made £9.88m of revenue in the year to December 2016 down from £11.7m the previous year. It reported its third consecutive annual loss of £455,405 in 2016 — its last set of publicly filed accounts.

Mark Hanney, chief executive of Valbury, has previously worked at several other trading firms and spent five years as financial director of Refco Trading Services Ltd, the UK arm of the collapsed US brokerage. Mr Hanney declined to comment.

The FCA declined to comment.

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