We genuinely cater to the needs of end-investors (or buy-side), by making sure they can always trade at a fair price, in liquid markets. That benefits retail investors, but also institutional investors, as well as banks. We are simply the oil in the machine, always showing prices. Banks have tended to withdraw from market making over the last decade, although they still represent a lot of transaction volume from their clients.
“We genuinely cater to the needs of end-investors (or buy-side), by making sure they can always trade at a fair price, in liquid markets.”
How has liquidity traditionally flowed and how has electronic trading and market making changed that liquidity flow?
The other difference we make in modern markets is to make sure that we are there at the moment where there is no liquidity. So, during the Coronavirus crisis for example, market makers kept quoting prices so that crashes are avoided: investors (retail and institutional) could still rely on accurate price formation, which dampens sell-offs and reduces uncertainty. There’s always someone who buys when someone wants to sell. So I think we prevent market crashes and help markets be more stable, even in turbulent circumstances.
Markets, and market makers, are incredibly competitive. There are always multiple market makers, not just a couple of big ones, but a wide variety of them each with different strategies. So we really compete on price and we really make sure that there’s a liquid market at all times. Diversity of market participants is extremely important. That is steadily improving, and we welcome initiatives like speed bumps which allows as many market makers as possible in the market. This helps a lot with less liquid products that are harder to quote. There’s a wider variety of participants in the market, and this increases market quality for retail and institutional investors alike. Market structure is much more diverse and resilient than ever before.
You want diversity and competition in financial markets, and market makers that have different strategies. Most participants in modern markets use algorithmic technologies – from your household broker to pension funds, and we do too. Because we have a natural incentive to price better, we keep innovating. That benefits the end-investor because their pricing gets better, because we, and other institutions, are competing fiercely.
Market makers are in the business of providing pricing on the exchange, but they do so together with other sources of liquidity, like banks, brokers and asset managers. Exactly because there are more and more innovative market participants, markets become more and more competitive. Combined with circuit breakers (halting the market when price formation is no longer accurate), markets have become much more resilient and liquid than in the past, even under the most difficult circumstances. The recent Covid turbulence has shown that markets are operating as they should and that price formation is continuous and correct.
So how do we influence the future development? What we try to do, and our competitors as well, is to try and make sure that the market becomes tighter and tighter, that everything goes through the electronic book. We are fierce proponents of trading everything on lit markets, i.e. on open and competitive exchanges, where supply and demand meet. What we see as problematic is that increasing trading volume, particularly retail trades, are siphoned off liquid markets into ‘aggregators’, affiliated platforms and SIs, away from exchanges.
This simply means that increasing trade volume is no longer contributing to price formation, deteriorating market quality. We are committed to keep exchanges the central market place for all end-investors, because it ensures them a central market place where they achieve the most competitive and transparent prices imaginable: because of fierce competition among all market participants, including market makers.
Ideally, everything is traded on one single market as that would actually be on just one central exchange for all supply and demand. But this is not an easy thing to achieve because there are a lot of forces who’d rather want to execute trades through their own affiliates, or investment banks and SIs. We see payment for order flow and executing retail orders at reference prices, without genuine supply and demand interaction, as a threat to market quality. That’s why we really believe that full transparency and competition will be there if everything is traded on one key exchange, for each product.
I also think the whole speed game is not something that we should continue to do. Ultimately it only benefits one or two hyper fast participants while stifling competition for all the other participants. Speed bumps and other incentives to end this highly expensive arms race genuinely benefit end-investors. A pointless speed race ultimately costs end-investors real money because competition decreases and trading costs increase to recover the investments in speed. This is something for our industry, as well as exchanges, to reflect about next.
So we focus just on that, and keep stressing this with regulators. You don’t want an oligopoly like in the past or an even more fragmented market structure. Eventually, the end-investor pays for increased fragmentation and trade volumes leaking away from central market places. Low-cost or no-cost brokerage sounds nice, but end-investors pay the price in wider spreads and less competition (albeit this is much less visible to retail investors than paying a couple of euros in trading fees on-exchange).
“We believe that if we continue to strive for better markets, a more competitive and innovative market structure, in the end the result will be beneficial for everyone.”
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