The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is weighing a requirement that brokers tell investors exactly where their stock trades go to be executed, a proposal that may address complaints that the decisions are sometimes made against the client’s best interests.
The proposal could give investors more insight into whether they are getting the best price when they buy and sell large numbers of shares, according to three people familiar with the matter.
Brokers entrusted with orders in the US stock market can choose from among dozens of exchanges and private trading venues.
Some money managers such as T. Rowe Price Group Inc have told regulators that incentives offered by exchanges for attracting orders can put a broker’s financial interest at odds with the customer’s.
The SEC faces pressure to overhaul trading after Michael Lewis’ Flash Boys book made the claim that high-frequency traders hurt other investors by learning which shares investors plan to buy, purchasing them and selling them back at a higher price. The SEC has said it is reviewing how stocks are traded, and regulators are trying to identify changes that could be implemented quickly, the sources said.
“We’ve actually started this conversation about what can we do right now,” SEC Commissioner Kara Stein said in an interview. “All five commissioners are very focused on these issues and are committed to making sure the market is fair and efficient and promoting capital formation.”
There is a lot of “low-hanging fruit” that should be considered, Stein said, while declining to discuss specific measures.
Commissioners expect the SEC’s staff to present them with potential policy options “in the near term,” commissioner Luis Aguilar said in an interview.
SEC spokeswoman Judith Burns did not respond to e-mail and telephone messages seeking comment.
Brokers can face a conflict of interest when they select where to send customer orders. Brokers can either capture a rebate or pay a fee to an exchange depending on the type of order used, while private venues known as “dark pools” charge lower fees, but do not have to disclose how they treat customers.
Requiring brokers to report every step they took to fill a customer’s order could help investors defend against the predatory traders described by Lewis, said Andy Brooks, head of US equity trading at Baltimore’s T. Rowe Price.
While large investors can demand such reporting, regulators could require “a very detailed and comprehensive template” that would allow investors to compare the brokers they use, he said.
“It’s where you went and didn’t get an execution that begs the question of why did you go there?” Brooks said in an interview, referring to incentives brokers may receive. “Why is a broker sending an order to a venue where you get no execution?”
Greater transparency is one idea being weighed by the SEC’s Division of Trading and Markets, the sources said. Regulators could decide to publicly encourage more uniform order-routing notices instead of imposing a new requirement on brokers, they said.
While improved disclosure is helpful, the SEC should experiment with altering the economic incentives that affect how orders are handled, Brooks said, adding that T. Rowe has joined the New York Stock Exchange, Royal Bank of Canada and IEX Group Inc in lobbying regulators to ban the “maker-taker” system, which pays rebates to large brokers to attract trades.