Football Index – what next?

It’s been just over 7 days since Football Index collapsed. It feels like one of the longest weeks of my life – I’m sure many others feel the same.

In the space of a week, we’ve been through the slashing of dividends, portfolio values reducing by 90% or more, the announcement that Football Index were going into administration and then the Gambling Commission suspending their licence. Alongside that we’ve all heard horrific stories of people losing their life savings and being pushed to the very brink, the newspapers have called this the ‘biggest failure of a gambling business in British history’ and we’ve discovered that the Gibraltar office of Football Index is styled in the image of a run down crack den out of a Call of Duty level (and is operating without a licence?).

There have been moments of light and hope too. Thousands of Louis Tomlinson fans added their voices to the campaign for justice and signed the petition, showing the power of solidarity (and that you should never mess with boyband fans). There have been FI-themed songs, meaningful offers of support from the community and most recently a group of traders have set up a project to work towards a class action lawsuit, if that’s the road we decide to go down in the end. We may be down but we sure as hell aren’t out.

I felt I should write something at this point just so that I can get some closure on here, in terms of FI. I’ve been trying to think about what to say at this point that hasn’t already been said in the myriad other posts and articles that we’ve read in the last few days.

Of course it’s hard to get closure when there are so many unanswered questions…

What really happened?

We may never get to the bottom of this but with the increasing regulatory and media scrutiny, I imagine that we might eventually get some answers. Some of the the things I’d really like to know are:

  • When did FI realise they were facing financial problems? Did they mint shares at high prices, knowing that the prices were about to drop through the floor?
  • Was the Q&A just a rouse to encourage users to make one last deposit?
  • Why were bid floors removed after the announcement and why weren’t circuit breakers working? Both of which allowed player prices across the whole platform to drop close to zero.
  • Why was the decision made to 5x IPDs if this wasn’t sustainable, leading to IPDs being dropped altogether just a few weeks later?
  • Why did FI go back on the original ‘generous but sensible’ summer dividend review and implement a doubling of the dividend payouts, when this was clearly unsustainable?
  • What was the nature of FI’s relationship with Nasdaq and when did this end?
  • Why were basic tech changes and improvements never implemented onto the platform, when FI were employing software engineers at Index Labs on over £100k per year and boasting about the ‘Hadron project’ they were working on?
  • What was the nature of the relationship between FI and Index Labs? How much money was siphoned off into this side project with no meaningful benefit to traders?
  • How many other subsidiary companies were involved in FI and what were they all doing?
  • Why were the changes to media scoring developed but never implemented?
  • Why was the 3-year expiry on bets referred to in the terms and conditions but never implemented?
  • Why was Instant Sell (IS) turned off with no notice given to traders and never reinstated? Was this a breach of their own terms and conditions?
  • What was the role of LP001 and what did they hope to achieve from its activity in the market?
  • Why was there no transparency around what was discussed at the various trader panels that were held?
  • Did FI do any stress testing of proposed changes to the platform, or any forecasting of how changes would impact on the sustainability of the platform? If so, how can they account for such a series of devastating mistakes?
  • Were there ever any conversations with liquidity providers? If so, what happened?
  • Was there ever really a prospect of opening up in other territories, like Germany, or was this another carrot dangled purely to try to keep traders’ money in the platform?
  • Why were there so many portfolio valuations offered to traders, all of which were misleading (with the most misleading one of all being the default option) – was this part of a deliberate act to deceive?
  • What sort of affordability checks did FI do on traders, which still enabled people to deposit almost their entire life savings into the platform?
  • Did the Gambling Commission have any concerns about the way FI was operating and their ongoing use of terms like ‘dividends’ and ‘shares’, which dressed the product up as an investment vehicle, or were they basically asleep at the wheel through all of this?
  • Where the fuck did all the money go???

Aside from all this, the biggest question in my mind will always be ‘was this model ever really sustainable?’. I’m not sure it was. It certainly wasn’t sustainable under the order book system.

The early days were different – it was essentially a Ponzi scheme at this point, and we were all drunk on the dividends and the capital appreciation that flowed so easily from this model. We probably knew it couldn’t carry on like that, it could never be sustainable that way. Remember the time that Football Index advertised themselves by saying that said that 98% of traders were winners on Football Index? Only 2% losing… doesn’t sound sustainable does it? Sounds like… a Ponzi scheme?

But what was the alternative? I don’t think order books was it.

In my opinion, the turning off of IS was the moment that FI was mortally wounded and has slowly been bleeding out ever since. It destroyed the platform in so many ways. With no easy way out, the risk/reward ratio became completely distorted and they could never set dividends at a level high enough to over come that.

Not only that but order books had a profound effect on the community too. Without IS, our only way out of bad holds was to sell them onto someone else. That’s a dangerous dynamic which shut down a lot of valid criticism and contributed to the never-ending optimism about the product in the face of red flag after red flag. Without doubt, much of that optimism was born out of blinkered love for the platform but towards the end perhaps some of it was calculated and deliberate, to keep market confidence high and to ensure that there was always a ‘greater fool’ to sell our bets onto.

I’m sure that looking back, many of us would have done something different. I know I should’ve pulled out all my money in the summer, when my gut told me the ship was going down. This was an addictive platform though and I, like many others, always expected there would be some point in the future when I could sell into the rise (and therefore onto the greater fool). Except the rise never came. I was the fool.

But, as others have said, we weren’t the only ones suckered in by their lies. This was a convincing operation and no one should feel shame about what’s happened.

So what now?

Now the administrators have taken over, we’re in their hands. This process is unlikely to be a quick one – I imagine this is going to be a very messy situation to unravel, particularly as there’s not really a comparable product in the industry so just making sense of it will take some time. Football Index Trader (Adam) has done a deep dive into what the process could look like so do have a read of that. It’s important that we leave the administrators alone now while they get on with the task at hand, so a bit more patience is required.

You may want to just delete the app and forget about it now or you might want to get involved in the ongoing fight to get justice. Either way, I would recommend that you first make sure you have as much evidence as possible about your own interactions with FI – screenshots of your portfolio, your transactions summary, your transaction history downloaded in full (this can be done from the website in 3 months chunks) and any email or other interaction you’ve had with FI. You may not need any of this but I think it’s good to make notes of this now, in case it’s harder to get hold of later on. It’s been noted that they are already deleting their tweets…

I’m hopeful that traders might get something out of this but if you can write it all off mentally at this point then anything back is a bonus. As a bare minimum, I would expect that any cash balances should be returned. What happens with our outstanding portfolios is a more tricky one to work out. The ‘shares’ are outstanding bets so we could speculate that there’s a possibility that they will be voided and returned (subject to that money being available). In reality, it’s unlikely to be that simple of course.

I do wonder what the review that the Gambling Commission are carrying out will unearth about the activities of FI, although the fact that this was able to get to this stage says a lot about the actual power of the Gambling Commission to deal with rogue platforms. We’re currently in the middle of a long overdue review of Britain’s gambling laws so this scandal couldn’t have come at a worse time for the industry. The fall out from this is likely to be severe and wide ranging.

If you do want to pursue the fight, make sure you are following @FI_action on twitter. Consider writing to your MP and relevant government ministers as well, to help keep the pressure up.

Please make sure you look after yourself. The last week has been draining. Talk to the people you care about – it’s much better than keeping all of this inside. Understand that you’re going to feel empty for a while – this is loss and it’s going to be a period of grieving for a lot of us.

Some of you will want to turn off your SofaScore notifications and probably won’t want to touch another football gambling product again. Other will want to jump straight back on the horse. If you do head back in, make sure you pause for a second and consider what you’ve learned and what you’ll do differently next time. Don’t chase losses or gamble when you’re emotional – it never ends well (trust me).

All in all, we’re some way away from closure at this point.

But whatever happens next for us and for FI, it sure was fun while it lasted.

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