FINRA announced this week that it is conducting a review of its member firms’ order-routing processes and procedures and the execution quality of customer orders in exchange-listed stocks.    We previously reported in this blog that an academic paper on this subject had gotten the attention of FINRA and the SEC.  That article, by professors at Notre Dame and the University of Indiana, concluded that many brokers route customer limit orders to the exchange that pays them the highest rebates, but that those exchanges do not necessarily provide best execution on their trades.

FINRA has now gone public with its sweep by posting its “Targeted Examination Letter” on the FINRA website.  The letter, issued by FINRA’s Market Regulation Department, covers a review period for this year to date, and pointedly asks firms to explain how they determine the best market to which to route their orders so that the resultant price is as favorable as possible.  The remainder of the sweep letter’s requests seek more specific related information that is clearly designed to determine if fears raised by the academic paper are warranted, including:

  • An explanation of how the firm makes its exchange order-routing decisions for non-marketable limit orders, and for market and marketable limit orders;
  • A statement of whether the firm passes exchange maker/taker fees on to its customers;
  • An explanation of how the firm reviews the execution quality of customer non-marketable, as well as market and marketable, limit orders that the firm routes to exchanges, and whether the firm has a committee that reviews the execution quality of such orders; and
  • A statement of whether the firm routes customer market and/or limit orders to other broker-dealers for execution, whether the firm receives a payment and/or other remuneration for such routing, and how such decisions are made.

Even if your firm is not targeted by FINRA for this sweep, we recommend reviewing the sweep letter, since the issues raised by it are likely to arise in future cycle exams.  In addition, it’s a fair bet that FINRA is likely to use the findings of these exams as the basis for future guidance or rule-making in this area.