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Investor surge knocks out stock broker website

In the City, the general consensus has been that the Royal Mail sell off has been a bit of a shambles. With the benefit of hindsight, it can easily be said that the government sold the shares in the state-owned postal service way too cheaply. Whereas a deliberate degree of undervaluing in an IPO is common in a bid to shift all the shares, there is little doubt that the Royal Mail shares should have been pitched higher.


This was in clear evidence last week when investors flooded the website of broker Hargreaves Lansdown to try and clean up on Royal Mail shares. According to media reports, the shares soared to more than 35 per cent in conditional trading on the morning of the debut, with more than 10 million shares changing hands in the first 30 seconds of the market opening.


The Hargreaves Lansdown site, unable to cope with the volume of wannabe investors, collapsed under the weight of enquiries, with the website being down for much of the morning and frustratingly for investors, long delays on its dealing line.


So how did this happen and how can it prevented from happening again? Well, despite the excellent name Hargreaves Landsdown has in the investment community, it would appear its foresight and knowledge on the Royal Mail IPO didn’t filter down to its IT department. With an IPO of this sort, online share trading is vital. Although given the sheer volume of people on its website, the IT department could probably have done a little more to shore up the resilience and capacity of the site prior to the announcement. That said, it’s very difficult – and costly - to predict and prepare for every eventuality when it comes to online performance. IT departments will have criteria the site needs to meet – they will have performed a thorough risk analysis, but ultimately, the potential pit falls (such as reputational damage) need to match up to the cost. They need to draw the line somewhere.


As far as they are able, in any customer environment, companies have to be prepared for peaks such as this. Capacity management and awareness are vital when it comes to dealing with very heavy volumes of traffic. Companies have to understand and be aware of their limits and manage customer expectations accordingly. It is all down to good planning, understanding your weaknesses and managing the risks and customer outcomes. And if the site does fall over, you have to be ready with the risk mitigation action and possibly apologies.


In the way an investment house analyses the markets, the macro trends and gives investment advice accordingly, so should IT departments be scanning the horizon, looking for any occurrences that could have a significant impact on the business and prepare for it as best they can.


Comments: (1)

Bryan Foss
Bryan Foss - Bristol Business School - London 21 October, 2013, 14:03Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Certainly not the first web service / systems to collapse from volume peaks or other continuity issues - UCAS, also RBS are high profile examples. In FS business and systems continuity (as part of Op Risk) is now a topic that gets FCA and sometimes PRA attention too, especially for those businesses that might have an adverse effect on UK economy. Cybersecurity and DDOS are associated continuity risks of course. Risk planning and rapid response are certainly worth significant attention, perhaps 'cloud' can help too as a source of variable capacity? Anyone who bought RM early in the market will be smiling now of course....  

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