PFOF: Payment For Order Flow

Payment for order flow consists of a “kickback” or commission that the broker routing customers to a market maker (in charge of enabling the bid and ask price) will pay a commission to the broker as a sort of market-making fee.

How does the payment for order floe work?

In an interview to Bernie Madoff back on May 2000, asked why his firm was “paying brokerages to ship trades your way” Madoff explained:

 It’s a relatively small part, maybe 20 percent, of our business today. Payment for order flow was only an issue as it related to best execution. Does inducing someone to send an order to you present a problem as far as getting the right price goes? Quite honestly that depends on the firm. You’re all fiduciaries. As long as you operate in the proper fiduciary capacity, and you’re dealing with a reputable firm, it wasn’t a problem.

At the question “Will payment for order flow ever disappear?” Madoff replied:

No. I think it will get lower and lower as the spreads get lower and lower with decimals. No one tells a firm how they can advertise. If I want to hire salesmen to generate order flow, no one is going to object. I don’t have them. So if I want to use Fidelity’s salesmen and pay part of my trading profits in the form of a rebate, why shouldn’t I be allowed to do it? It was characterized as this bribe and kickback and something sinister, which was very easy to do. But if your girlfriend goes to buy stockings at a supermarket, the racks that display those stockings are usually paid for by the company that manufactured the stockings. Order flow is an issue that attracted a lot of attention but is grossly overrated.

DefinitionPayment for Order Flow (PFOF) is a practice in financial markets where brokerage firms receive compensation from market makers or trading firms in exchange for directing customer orders to them for execution. It involves routing customer orders to external parties rather than executing them within the brokerage.
OriginPayment for Order Flow began in the United States in the 1980s as a response to commission deregulation. It aimed to provide brokerage firms with an additional revenue stream by selling order flow to market makers. The practice gained popularity as electronic trading became more prevalent.
Implications– Conflicts of Interest: PFOF raises concerns about potential conflicts of interest, as brokers may prioritize payment over obtaining the best execution for their customers. – Market Liquidity: PFOF can contribute to market liquidity as it encourages market makers to trade with retail orders. – Commission Reduction: It has allowed brokers to offer commission-free trading to retail investors.
Examples– Robinhood: The popular online brokerage has faced scrutiny for its reliance on PFOF as a revenue source. – Market Makers: Firms like Citadel Securities and Virtu Financial are examples of market makers that pay for order flow.
RegulationPFOF is regulated by financial authorities such as the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Regulations require brokers to disclose their PFOF practices and ensure best execution for customer orders.
Benefits– Commission-Free Trading: Retail investors often benefit from commission-free trading, thanks to PFOF. – Brokerage Revenue: Brokerage firms generate income through PFOF, which can support their business models. – Market Efficiency: PFOF can contribute to tighter bid-ask spreads and increased market liquidity.
Concerns– Conflicts of Interest: Brokers may have an incentive to route orders to the highest bidder, potentially compromising customer interests. – Execution Quality: Some argue that PFOF could lead to suboptimal execution for retail traders. – Lack of Transparency: Critics say that the practice lacks transparency, making it hard for customers to assess its impact.
Recent DevelopmentsIn early 2021, the GameStop trading frenzy drew significant attention to PFOF and market dynamics. This led to discussions and regulatory scrutiny regarding the practice’s impact on market integrity and investor protection.

The Robinhood Saga

Robinhood is an app that helps to invest in stocks, ETFs, options, and cryptocurrencies, all commission-free. Robinhood earns money by offering: Robinhood Gold, a margin trading service, which starts at $6 a month, earn interest from customer cash and stocks, and rebates from market makers and trading venues.

The payment for order flow issue got a major interest in 2021, as meme investors targeted various stocks, and some of them were backed by hedge funds, which were squeezed out.

Robinhood stopped trading these stocks, and the suspect from some was that the platform was acting in favor of these players instead of its retail investors. And some claimed this might be due to the fact Robinhood earns money also through payments for order flow.

Indeed, brokerage firms like Robinhood pass along their customers’ trades to other market makers are compensated on top of the spread between the bid and ask price with a fee for each trade as a “market maker fee” (the largest market maker for options in the US is called Citadel Securities – owned by Citadel LLC, which during the short squeeze from Redditors bailed out the hedge fund Melvin Capital).

Meme stocks are securities that go viral online and attract the attention of the younger generation of retail investors. Meme investing, therefore, is a bottom-up, community-driven approach to investing that positions itself as the antonym to Wall Street investing. Also, meme investing often looks at attractive opportunities with lower liquidity that might be easier to overtake, thus enabling wide speculation, as “meme investors” often look for disproportionate short-term returns.

Understanding The Issue

The CEO of Robinhood highlighted that the main issue with payment for order flow was the limitation posed by Rule 612:

In general, the Rule prohibits market participants from displaying, ranking, or accepting quotations, orders, or indications of interest in any NMS stock priced in an increment smaller than $0.01 if the quotation, order, or indication of interest is priced equal to or greater than $1.00 per share. 

As Robinhood’s CEO highlighted:

Back in 2005, when Rule 612 was adopted, the consensus was that price increments of $0.0001 were economically insignificant. Supporters of the rule argued that sophisticated investors may use these smaller increments to step ahead of retail investors by trivial amounts. Some also argued that technology hadn’t advanced enough to properly handle an enormous increase in on-exchange quoting.

Read Also: Robinhood Business ModelReddit Business ModelTwitter Business ModelDogecoin.

Connected Financial Concepts

Circle of Competence

The circle of competence describes a person’s natural competence in an area that matches their skills and abilities. Beyond this imaginary circle are skills and abilities that a person is naturally less competent at. The concept was popularised by Warren Buffett, who argued that investors should only invest in companies they know and understand. However, the circle of competence applies to any topic and indeed any individual.

What is a Moat

Economic or market moats represent the long-term business defensibility. Or how long a business can retain its competitive advantage in the marketplace over the years. Warren Buffet who popularized the term “moat” referred to it as a share of mind, opposite to market share, as such it is the characteristic that all valuable brands have.

Buffet Indicator

The Buffet Indicator is a measure of the total value of all publicly-traded stocks in a country divided by that country’s GDP. It’s a measure and ratio to evaluate whether a market is undervalued or overvalued. It’s one of Warren Buffet’s favorite measures as a warning that financial markets might be overvalued and riskier.

Venture Capital

Venture capital is a form of investing skewed toward high-risk bets, that are likely to fail. Therefore venture capitalists look for higher returns. Indeed, venture capital is based on the power law, or the law for which a small number of bets will pay off big time for the larger numbers of low-return or investments that will go to zero. That is the whole premise of venture capital.

Foreign Direct Investment

Foreign direct investment occurs when an individual or business purchases an interest of 10% or more in a company that operates in a different country. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), this percentage implies that the investor can influence or participate in the management of an enterprise. When the interest is less than 10%, on the other hand, the IMF simply defines it as a security that is part of a stock portfolio. Foreign direct investment (FDI), therefore, involves the purchase of an interest in a company by an entity that is located in another country. 


Micro-investing is the process of investing small amounts of money regularly. The process of micro-investing involves small and sometimes irregular investments where the individual can set up recurring payments or invest a lump sum as cash becomes available.

Meme Investing

Meme stocks are securities that go viral online and attract the attention of the younger generation of retail investors. Meme investing, therefore, is a bottom-up, community-driven approach to investing that positions itself as the antonym to Wall Street investing. Also, meme investing often looks at attractive opportunities with lower liquidity that might be easier to overtake, thus enabling wide speculation, as “meme investors” often look for disproportionate short-term returns.

Retail Investing

Retail investing is the act of non-professional investors buying and selling securities for their own purposes. Retail investing has become popular with the rise of zero commissions digital platforms enabling anyone with small portfolio to trade.

Accredited Investor

Accredited investors are individuals or entities deemed sophisticated enough to purchase securities that are not bound by the laws that protect normal investors. These may encompass venture capital, angel investments, private equity funds, hedge funds, real estate investment funds, and specialty investment funds such as those related to cryptocurrency. Accredited investors, therefore, are individuals or entities permitted to invest in securities that are complex, opaque, loosely regulated, or otherwise unregistered with a financial authority.

Startup Valuation

Startup valuation describes a suite of methods used to value companies with little or no revenue. Therefore, startup valuation is the process of determining what a startup is worth. This value clarifies the company’s capacity to meet customer and investor expectations, achieve stated milestones, and use the new capital to grow.

Profit vs. Cash Flow

Profit is the total income that a company generates from its operations. This includes money from sales, investments, and other income sources. In contrast, cash flow is the money that flows in and out of a company. This distinction is critical to understand as a profitable company might be short of cash and have liquidity crises.


Double-entry accounting is the foundation of modern financial accounting. It’s based on the accounting equation, where assets equal liabilities plus equity. That is the fundamental unit to build financial statements (balance sheet, income statement, and cash flow statement). The basic concept of double-entry is that a single transaction, to be recorded, will hit two accounts.

Balance Sheet

The purpose of the balance sheet is to report how the resources to run the operations of the business were acquired. The Balance Sheet helps to assess the financial risk of a business and the simplest way to describe it is given by the accounting equation (assets = liability + equity).

Income Statement

The income statement, together with the balance sheet and the cash flow statement is among the key financial statements to understand how companies perform at fundamental level. The income statement shows the revenues and costs for a period and whether the company runs at profit or loss (also called P&L statement).

Cash Flow Statement

The cash flow statement is the third main financial statement, together with income statement and the balance sheet. It helps to assess the liquidity of an organization by showing the cash balances coming from operations, investing and financing. The cash flow statement can be prepared with two separate methods: direct or indirect.

Capital Structure

The capital structure shows how an organization financed its operations. Following the balance sheet structure, usually, assets of an organization can be built either by using equity or liability. Equity usually comprises endowment from shareholders and profit reserves. Where instead, liabilities can comprise either current (short-term debt) or non-current (long-term obligations).

Capital Expenditure

Capital expenditure or capital expense represents the money spent toward things that can be classified as fixed asset, with a longer term value. As such they will be recorded under non-current assets, on the balance sheet, and they will be amortized over the years. The reduced value on the balance sheet is expensed through the profit and loss.

Financial Statements

Financial statements help companies assess several aspects of the business, from profitability (income statement) to how assets are sourced (balance sheet), and cash inflows and outflows (cash flow statement). Financial statements are also mandatory to companies for tax purposes. They are also used by managers to assess the performance of the business.

Financial Modeling

Financial modeling involves the analysis of accounting, finance, and business data to predict future financial performance. Financial modeling is often used in valuation, which consists of estimating the value in dollar terms of a company based on several parameters. Some of the most common financial models comprise discounted cash flows, the M&A model, and the CCA model.

Business Valuation

Business valuations involve a formal analysis of the key operational aspects of a business. A business valuation is an analysis used to determine the economic value of a business or company unit. It’s important to note that valuations are one part science and one part art. Analysts use professional judgment to consider the financial performance of a business with respect to local, national, or global economic conditions. They will also consider the total value of assets and liabilities, in addition to patented or proprietary technology.

Financial Ratio



The Weighted Average Cost of Capital can also be defined as the cost of capital. That’s a rate – net of the weight of the equity and debt the company holds – that assesses how much it cost to that firm to get capital in the form of equity, debt or both. 

Financial Option

A financial option is a contract, defined as a derivative drawing its value on a set of underlying variables (perhaps the volatility of the stock underlying the option). It comprises two parties (option writer and option buyer). This contract offers the right of the option holder to purchase the underlying asset at an agreed price.

Profitability Framework

A profitability framework helps you assess the profitability of any company within a few minutes. It starts by looking at two simple variables (revenues and costs) and it drills down from there. This helps us identify in which part of the organization there is a profitability issue and strategize from there.

Triple Bottom Line

The Triple Bottom Line (TBL) is a theory that seeks to gauge the level of corporate social responsibility in business. Instead of a single bottom line associated with profit, the TBL theory argues that there should be two more: people, and the planet. By balancing people, planet, and profit, it’s possible to build a more sustainable business model and a circular firm.

Behavioral Finance

Behavioral finance or economics focuses on understanding how individuals make decisions and how those decisions are affected by psychological factors, such as biases, and how those can affect the collective. Behavioral finance is an expansion of classic finance and economics that assumed that people always rational choices based on optimizing their outcome, void of context.

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