An eye opening post from the author a former moderator on Reddit r/RobinHood (" I worked for a market analytics/quantitative research firm in the city that was eventually gobbled up by Virtu.")
My current day job makes trading public companies complex (which is why I only talk about algotrading ETH on Discord).
If IEX was larger, that would be a decent alternative for equities but they don’t have a silly app that looks good in screenshots but tells you nothing useful. I can’t think of a self-directed firm that can currently exist without Citadel and the rest. If you do, post about it, I guess.
People over simplify it with “if the service is free, you are the product” because they don’t notice that the machine will also make you pay if it can. Money for order flow has made it easier for others to provide the space for you to do what you do without noticing they’re cashing in even if you don’t but don’t forget that the machine can be other investors. The machine can be the large firms. The machine can be investment advice columnists. Hedge funds and brokerages aren’t the only ‘machine operators’ in the financial industry.
Which firms use Citadel and which ones don’t?
They all use Citadel.
I’m not joking, I’ve kept up to date on execution venues (people probably thought I was just lecturing them about understanding order flow here but I dislike Virtu as a venue and Apex as a clearing firm which I’ve talked about here for years) and the concentration of orders being fed to the short list of venues has not changed in a positive way because that’s where the money is. The idea for this post came to me this morning because no news article, no TV interview, and not a single hot take on Twitter I’ve read so far has managed to mention just how embedded Citadel individually is in the modern market. I had AOC’s live stream on in the background last night and even the guests seemed to imply that Citadel is a little firm propping up Robinhood and that nobody could have seen this blowing up one day. These relationships (even down to how much money is paid) are public by law. Every quarter, both sides are required to release data on order flow in 605 (raw), and 606/607 reports.
Now, when you look at that list, remember three things:
- that 99.9% of the remaining orders are going to Wolverine, Virtu, 2 Sigma, and other hedge fund adjacent venues for execution
- brokerages were doing the same back when they were also charging commissions. I don’t feel firms being paid for order flow is inherently wrong but whatever agreement Citadel has in place to force firms to act in Citadel’s best interest over customers and even over the brokerage’s own best interest is difficult to wrap my mind around right now. Which brings me to my next point…
- Citadel’s most loyal sources for order flow (Robinhood, TDA, Webull, and IB) all fell in line and limited trading at least part of the day. The agreements between these companies and Citadel are obviously not public but I’m sure Citadel has them bent over a contractual barrel that left them with no choice but to comply. As a customer of half of those firms, I say they should have done whatever they could to explain the actual situation to the public (spoilers: it wasn’t risk on the retail side), taken whatever penalties Citadel could impose for ignoring them (all the way up to breach of contract, etc), and fight that out in court rather than act in ways that seems to have only punished and confused customers. Corporate level decision making is so fucking stupid.
Citadel better not have their hands in our trades