Every significant transformation comes with a new toolset, one that is always surprising at the time and obvious in hindsight. Bitcoin (BTC), climate change and GameStop are all examples of ways in which mass action is pushing for dramatic, not evolutionary, action. We can also see that these are individual vectors of the same movement, highlighting the inefficient parts of the legacy system and the solutions driven by an aggregation of individuals with a collective belief.
What is so striking, but not unexpected, is that some of these events highlighted the opaque nature of centralized systems. They follow the recent trend of companies like Reddit, Robinhood and E-Trade restricting user access to entire platforms or specific features. The GameStop episode demonstrated how centralized systems could steer trading processes and unfairly disadvantage retail investors for the benefit of legacy institutions. Specifically, it brought to light a surprising amount of collateral requirements on brokers — such as Robinhood — by the clearing corporations. The reasoning for this was the maintenance of sufficient levels of margin.
Another thing that came to light is that brokers like Robinhood, Fidelity, E-Trade, Charles Schwab and TD Ameritrade engage in a much-debated practice called “payment-for-order-flow” that could lead to front running. In this process, market-making firms like Citadel Securities pay a broker a fee to access orders placed by retail traders. When bundled, these orders give market makers access to information about potential short-term, future price movements. Is there any benefit for the retail trader? As the brokerage companies state: yes, as this practice allows for commission-free trades.
Although these practices are commonplace in traditional internet and finance within a narrow context, things can get uncertain when we take a broader perspective of similar…