In early 2023, Evelyn placed an order to buy shares in a company. The sharebroker she used had on their website that the upcoming dividend was USD20 a share.
Shortly after Evelyn placed the order, she contacted the sharebroker because she had found different dividend information elsewhere online. The sharebroker confirmed that their information was wrong: the upcoming dividend was 20 US cents a share (not USD20 a share).
Evelyn complained to the sharebroker because she had relied on their information when she placed the buy order. Evelyn and the sharebroker discussed the complaint, but it was not resolved.
The next day, early in the morning New Zealand time when US markets opened, Evelyn’s buy order was filled (the sharebroker purchased the shares for Evelyn). She paid USD10 a share.
Evelyn and the sharebroker continued to discuss the complaint, but it was not resolved. The sharebroker apologised to Evelyn and offered her $80 compensation. Evelyn declined the offer and she asked FSCL to investigate her complaint.
Evelyn felt misled by the sharebroker and said consumers have a right to accurate pricing. She wanted the sharebroker to pay her USD2,400 compensation. This was the amount she would have received if the dividend had been USD20 a share.
The sharebroker believed their $80 offer was fair. They understood Evelyn’s frustration that they had incorrect dividend information, but they did not accept responsibility for her investment decisions.
The sharebroker also said Evelyn could have cancelled the buy order before it was filled when the US markets opened.
We concluded that the sharebroker did not have to pay compensation for financial loss. While Evelyn had expected to receive a USD2,400 dividend, it was not money she actually lost because she would never actually have received that amount of money.
Further, the sharebroker were not responsible for Evelyn’s unrealised loss on the shares. They had significantly fallen in value by the time we reviewed the complaint. Evelyn had an opportunity soon after she purchased the shares, if she did not want them because the dividend was not going to be USD20 a share, to sell them and make a small gain on the investment. Evelyn took the risk, when she decided to retain the shares, that they may go up or down in value.
While the sharebroker had not caused Evelyn a financial loss, they had caused her inconvenience and disappointment. It would have been disappointing for Evelyn to have discovered that the dividend was going to be significantly less than what she was expecting when she placed the buy orders.
When deciding the amount of compensation the sharebroker should pay Evelyn, we took into account that she had contributed to the situation that occurred. Evelyn should have reasonably known, when she placed the buy order, that a USD20 a share dividend may not be correct. It was not logical that the upcoming dividend would be more than the share price.
We decided not to take into account that Evelyn could have cancelled the buy order before it was filled. Evelyn told us she did not know she could cancel the order, and her messages with the sharebroker when she first complained indicated to us that she thought she had purchased the shares when she placed the buy order.
We decided that $250 was a fair amount of compensation to recognise the disappointment and inconvenience the sharebroker’s mistake had caused Evelyn. Both the parties accepted our final decision.
Insights for consumers and participants
When reviewing a complaint where a financial service provider has made a mistake, we consider whether the consumer has suffered detriment (a financial loss or other harm) as a direct result of the mistake.
Our approach is similar to the common law doctrine of estoppel. At law, it may be unconscionable for a financial service provider to depart from an expectation they created for a consumer if the consumer relied on the representation to their detriment.