Westpac releases profit numbers prematurely in a spreadsheet

Incorrectly releasing a spreadsheet template instead of offical data leads to stopping trading of shares of Australia's oldest bank.



Sydney, AU




Mistake Type



Westpac is Australia’s first bank. It is one of four big banks in Australia. It is also one of the largest banks in New Zealand. It operates in consumer, business and institutional banking. Westpac also provides wealth management and financial services. Like many organizations, spreadsheets are central to the financial operations, including the preparation of the yearly profits report.


On the afternoon of September 27 2005, the yearly earnings figures were mistakenly sent by email to dozens of analysts. Philip Chronican, Chief Financial Officer, took swift action when two analysts from different brokerages noticed the error and contacted the bank. The remaining analysts were sent two retraction requests, one from the investor relations manager and a second from the bank's general counsel. They were asked to destroy the original message. The reason given was:

It contains market sensitive information in circumstances where the information is not generally available.


Westpac was forced to take swift action and halt trading on its shares after it mistakenly sent its annual profit results by email to the research analysts. The record profits for the year, due to be announced, were completely overshadowed by fears that the information may have been leaked to the market. In response to this, Westpac worked closely with the Australian Stock Exchange and the Australian Securities and Investment Commission to ensure the trading halt was implemented in a timely and appropriate manner. The priority was to promote transparency and protect the interests of our shareholders.

Westpac announced the following:

There was no evidence that the profit figures had been circulated and there were no signs of disorderly trading in Westpac shares in the morning.

The trading on the stock was halted in the early afternoon after rumors about the error became widely known in the market. Chief executive officer David Morgan had the following to say:

A trading halt is not a trivial issue and therefore not a decision we took lightly, It is not just one error, it is a compounding of two or three errors ... We will obviously be conducting a full inquiry to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Spreadsheet Error

The initial goal was to send a spreadsheet with the previous year results and summary. However, the new numbers were actually placed in a template of last year's results. The source indicates that the new numbers were "accessible with minor manipulation of the spreadsheet". We do not have information about what "minor manipulation" was required. In other similar accidents, data was released in hidden cells, but it is unclear if this is what happened in this particular instance.

Timeline of events


evening of Sep 27, 2005

Email containing a template for the profit statement due in two days is sent to multiple analysts.


morning of Sep 28, 2005

Two analysts are able to retrieve the yet-to-be-released profit numbers from the template and notify the bank.


afternoon of Sep 28, 2005

While no disorderly trading is detected, trading of Westpac's shares is halted due to fears of abuse of the leaked information.


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