At 14.32 p.m. on May 6, 2010, stock markets around the world simultaneously crashed without warning, wiping out trillions of dollars and creating havoc. The incident, dubbed 'The Flash Crash', exposed the shaky foundations propping up today's hyper-fast, computer-dominated financial system.
Government hearings, academic papers and a sweeping US investigation followed but, for years, its cause remained a mystery. Then, on April 21, 2015, two dozen police officers and FBI agents descended on a shabby suburban street in Hounslow to arrest an unlikely figure: Navinder Singh Sarao, a slight, doe-eyed 36-year old second-generation British Indian who - despite never having set foot in an investment bank - had earned more than $60 million trading futures in the same bedroom he'd slept in since he was a boy.
Sarao was a genuine savant, a one-in-a-million talent for whom making money in the markets was just another computer game to perfect. But he also had a steely, stubborn side. In 2009, frustrated by what he and many others saw as the unfair advantage enjoyed by multibillion-dollar high-frequency trading firms, Sarao had built a computer system that ‘spoofed’ his rivals into trading how he wanted.
He called it ‘NavTrader’, and the US government says it contributed to the biggest crash in the history of financial markets. The Flash Crash tells the unlikely story of how a streetwise, working-class outsider from West London who lived with his parents and never had a job came to outsmart some of the richest and most sophisticated investors in the world, raking in millions of pounds until the fateful day his doomsday machine worked too well, and he stood accused of bringing the global financial system to the brink of collapse.