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People stuck in lifts during massive power outage at Citi in London

Something appears to be afoot at Citi's EMEA headquarters in London.

Sources at the bank say the building was evacuated following a significant power outage that struck at around 4.15pm this afternoon.

Citi declined to comment, but it's understood that the issue wasn't restricted to the bank's London office - much of Canary Wharf and Tower Hamlets also appear to have been impacted. The cause appears to have been a fire at an electrical substation in Poplar. 

Several Citi insiders said that - unusually in banking - the bank didn't appear to have a generator to keep things running, or that if it did, the generator didn't work. "People got stuck in the lift for circa one hour," said one Citi VP. "I'm surprised that there wasn't any contingency plan for such massive outage." Another Citi insider said the coffee machines worked after the outage, but not the computers and that he was told to wait until the back-up power system kicked-in, but this never happened. 

Sources suggested that other banks are fine. JPMorgan, for example, said it was unaffected. Morgan Stanley's back-up power supply was operational. HSBC reportedly had a short outage before its auxiliary generators for London trading teams began working. 

It's standard for banks to have their own power supplies. In 2012, for example, we reported that Bank of America had a generator big enough to power 1,000 homes in the form of six 1.8 MW diesel generators on its roof. However, Citi's London office only appeared to have two 1.5 megawatt generators.

A sudden outage on the trading floor has the potential to lead to substantial losses at a major bank. It's not clear whether Citi simply rerouted London trading to New York. One trader said it had been "very messy." Much of Citi's London computer system appears to have gone down.

The power outage comes as banks will be alert to the potential for cyberattacks from Russia. The 2010 Stuxnet virus, thought to have been created by the U.S. government to disable the Iranian nuclear project, directly attacked programmable logic controllers used in applications like electrical substations.

"This just shows the benefit of working from home," says one London investment banker at Citi. Bankers who were relying on Citi's remote desktop are struggling to access the bank's system, he added. Those with Citi-issued laptops can still function as normal. 

A trader at a rival bank said the complete outage seemed strange. "Most banks have their trading servers co-located so that when the power goes down, trading can continue," he said. "There will be a lot of questions to answer at Citi after this." Citi has already invested significantly in compliance and controls; now it may need to invest in upgrading its technology and power infrastructure too.  

Citi is understood to have asked staff to work from home tomorrow. Some traders have relocated to the bank's back up site at Lewisham, which was last used in the early days of the pandemic. 

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AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor

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