Etoro is in trouble.
The Israeli online trading platform has been going through a crisis of confidence with its customers for the past few days after it made a decision that had a significant impact on many stock portfolios.
Etoro clients who invested in Russian shares received a message from the platform from Thursday explaining that their shares had been liquidated without their notice.
The customers most affected are those who owned shares in Russian supermarket operator Magnit, whose shares were liquidated for 1 cent a share. The company was still worth billions of dollars before the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
Faced with this unpleasant surprise, many affected customers stormed social media and messaging platforms like Telegram to express their anger.
“@etoro have just decided to forcefully close clients non-leverage positions in some Russian stocks,” one user posted on Twitter. “This has to be considered theft.”
“Meanwhile on @eToro Russian stocks are not a good idea to buy now,” another user wrote.
The Russian war in Ukraine provoked the announcement of economic and financial sanctions by the United States, the European Union and their allies against Russia, President Vladimir Putin and those close to him.
Faced with a potential financial disaster represented by these sanctions, the Central Bank of Russia closed the local Stock Exchange last week. The exchanges on shares of Russian companies were suspended at the London Stock Exchange. Magnit, one of the companies affected by eToro’s decision, is not one of the entities sanctioned by NATO and its allies.
But eToro explains that we are currently going through exceptional times, which justifies its action.
“When geopolitical events occur there is an impact on markets and in turn an impact on the service we can deliver to our users,” a spokeswoman said in an email statement to TheStreet. “We are currently in an unprecedented geopolitical environment and the resulting impact on a number of instruments means that in some cases they have lost their entire value and/or are subject to exchange intervention.”
She added that: “Situations such as this may be considered as ‘Exceptional Events’, which require us to take actions that we normally would not.”
This decision nevertheless remains a bad publicity stunt for eToro, a rival to U.S. online trading platform Robinhood (HOOD) – Get Robinhood Markets, Inc. Class A Report.
Etoro is also a platform where people can buy and sell crypto. It therefore presents itself as a ‘social investment networks” that gives control to its clients over their portfolios.
“EToro has created a multi-asset investment platform that is built on social collaboration and investor education: a community where users can connect, share, and learn,” the company said on its website.
Aware that its decision to liquidate its clients’ Magnit shares can damage its very carefully crafted reputation, eToro wants to make amends.
“Whenever we take any action, eToro endeavours to act in the best interests of the client,” the spokeswoman explained.
“We never wish to upset our clients and we are sorry that it was necessary to take this action. We will be communicating with all eToro users who hold MGNT that we will be providing them with a goodwill gesture in light of this incident.”
She did not say what nature or form this gesture will take.
EToro is also reviewing whether it can continue to offer nine other stocks from the country, including Sberbank of Russia, Rosneft (RNFTF) , Gazprom, Lukoil Lu, and Severstal.