US SEC chief unveils plans to overhaul Wall Street stock trading

June 13, 2022 01:22 PM

The top United States securities regulator has unveiled a planned overhaul of Wall Street retail stock trading rules, aiming to boost competition for handling orders by commission-free brokerages to ensure mom-and-pop investors get the best price for trades.

On Wednesday, US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chair Gary Gensler told an industry audience he wants to require trading firms to directly compete to execute trades from retail investors. The move is aimed at making the $45 trillion US equities market more transparent and fair.
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The Wall Street watchdog plans to scrutinize growth in recent years of the payment for order flow (PFOF) practice – banned in Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia – and under which brokers get paid to send customers’ stock orders to market makers.
Some brokers, such as TD Ameritrade, Robinhood Markets and E*Trade, accept these payments from wholesale market makers for orders. In December 2020, Robinhood actually paid a fine related to the practice, which the SEC said raised costs for investors using the online brokerage.
A ban on the PFOF practice is not off the table, Gensler has said. On Wednesday, he said the practice has “inherent conflicts” while noting some zero-commission brokerages operate without PFOF.
“I asked staff to take a holistic, cross-market view of how we could update our rules and drive greater efficiencies in our equity markets, particularly for retail investors,” Gensler said.
Investor advocates praised the SEC’s plan, which would be the biggest shake-up of US equity market rules in more than a decade. But financial industry executives quickly blasted the plans, saying they could hinder commission-free brokerages from serving more investors.
“Too many in the financial industry today get rich from anti-competitive and predatory practices in highly fragmented markets that result in retail investors being mistreated if not ripped off,” said Dennis Kelleher, the chief executive of Washington-based advocacy group Better Markets, who supports the SEC’s plans.
Joseph Mecane, head of execution services at Citadel Securities, warned against broad plans to revamp the market.
“We talk about how our markets are the envy of the world,” said Mecane. “We need to be very careful about … unintentionally taking us back to a period that looks worse that how it looks today.”
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