How To Deal With Trading Malfunctions

By Jean Folger AAA

Just like good boy scouts, traders need to be prepared for the unexpected. It is virtually inevitable that part of a trader's workstation will melt down at some point, and this can lead to a financial loss. Platforms can experience problems, including surprises in strategy automation, for which traders need to plan. And, although it (thankfully) doesn't happen very often, entire exchanges can even shut down. All traders need a well thought out plan - in writing - to deal with these types of eventualities. If traders are ready to deal with problems as they arise, they'll be back to trading sooner - and hopefully with a minimum of stress and financial loss. Think of this preparation as a form of risk control. (For a primer on day trading, refer to our Day Trading Tutorial.)

Important Numbers
At the very least, traders should have a handy list of service providers having to do with trading: brokers, essential trading and charting software, internet service providers, etc. The list should be easy to use and posted in an obvious location. The service name, telephone number(s) and pertinent username should be included along with the account number and password information.

Figure 1: An example of a service provider list.

Workstation Problems
Let's take a look at some of the technology on which traders rely in their workstations: computers, phone lines and internet connections. These elements are important to traders, yet any of them can abruptly disappear from the trader's workstation. The first step in dealing with tech issues is to immediately recognize and acknowledge the problem, and then take action to fix it.

Computers
The best offense for computer related problems is a good defense. Traders can avoid many problems by following three rules:

  • Keep virus protection up to date
  • Use hardwired peripherals (keyboard, mouse, etc)
  • Use hardwired internet

Using virus protection and internet security protection can help keep a computer healthy and working. Avoiding any wireless connections for things like keyboards, mice and the internet can help minimize the risks of a computer component malfunctioning, as well as simplify the troubleshooting process.

A separate computer, such as a laptop, with the trading platform loaded is a practical back-up. If the main computer is not functioning, trades can at least be monitored and/or placed. If a separate computer is not available and the main computer is down, a phone call to the broker can be made to place or close orders. (For information on designing and constructing a trading system, check out our Trading Systems Tutorial.)

Phones
If phone lines are out, the internet may be out as well, depending on the type of connection used. A good way to be prepared for losing a phone line connection is to have a charged cell phone handy. A cell phone can be used to call the broker, if necessary, and then to call the phone company to determine how to fix the problem.

Internet
If the internet connection is lost, a back-up internet service provider can be used if available (for instance, an air card or smartphone tether connection). Otherwise, a quick call to the broker can be made to ensure open trades have protective stop loss orders in the market, as well as profit target orders. After that, one can call the internet service provider's tech support to deal with the problem. (See Risk Management Techniques For Active Traders for additional tips.)

Platform Problems
Though traders would like to think their trading platforms are infallible, it is to a trader's advantage to plan for problems. The best way to be prepared for a problem is to create a troubleshooting guide specific to the platform. This should be an easy-to-find, easy-to-read page that provides an action plan to address each problem. Laminating the guide will help keep it in good shape, and will make it easier to find in normal workstation clutter. Keeping it in an obvious location at the workstation will ensure that it can be found during stressful times. The guide should state the difficulty, and list actionable steps towards resolving the problem.

A troubleshooting guide like this is a work in progress. Every now and then some new quirk will emerge. Once the trader has identified the problem and figured out the best solution, both should be added to the troubleshooting guide. Figure 2 shows an example of the type of information a troubleshooting guide might contain. (For related reading, take a look at Day Trading For Beginners.)

Figure 2: A troubleshooting guide.

Be Prepared
Since traders rely so heavily on technology, it is inevitable that some component of the chain of technology will malfunction. It is bad enough to deal with a computer crash, but when money is at risk because of it, it becomes even worse. Here are some ways in which traders can be prepared to deal with these problems:

  • Have a good battery back-up for your computer and other equipment such as modems. That way if there is a power outage, there is still some time to watch a position, and then call in any necessary orders to the broker.
  • Keep a list handy of phone numbers, usernames, account numbers and passwords.
  • Keep a back-up computer handy, with all trading applications loaded and ready to go. Remember to download new versions of platform software as they become available, and save your workspaces to the back-up computer.
  • Make sure a cell phone is handy and has a full charge in case the LAN line is out.
  • Have a back up internet connection ready to go.
  • Know how to refresh the data feed if it is sporadic or doesn't match other time frames. Refer to the platform's help guide for assistance.
  • Take quick, decisive action as soon as a problem is suspected, and follow the predetermined protocol for solving each problem. For new problems, document the steps taken to resolve them, and add the information to your troubleshooting guide.

Bottom Line
Each trader is different and will require varying degrees of preparedness. The casual buy-and-hold investor, for example, might not need a back-up computer and a back-up internet connection. An active trader, however, needs to be prepared to handle things like their broker losing access to the exchanges. This might come in the form of a back-up broker or a ready-to-fire hedge position that helps reduce financial risk in an open position in the market.

Each market participant, whether a buy-and-hold investor or a scalper placing dozens of trades a day, should evaluate his or her needs, consider what could go wrong, and develop an actionable plan to fix any problems as soon as they arise.

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