Family Offices, Payments to Brokers Are in Democrats’ Crosshairs

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House Democrats are starting to lay out a legislative wish list in response to two events that rocked financial markets this year: the implosion of Archegos Capital Management and wild trading in GameStop Corp.

Ahead of a Thursday hearing that will feature U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Gary Gensler, the House Financial Services Committee posted six draft bills on its website. The proposals ranged from banning payments for order flow to tightening oversight of family offices and requiring regulators to study gamification -- a term describing video game like features that critics say have been exploited by Robinhood Markets and other online brokerages to keep customers trading.

The bills likely highlight topics that lawmakers will ask Gensler about at the hearing, which is the panel’s third on the GameStop frenzy. The proposals were published without any legislative sponsors and some run just two pages, signaling it’s probably premature to view them as a sweeping plan for overhauling markets. Also appearing at the hearing are Financial Industry Regulatory Authority President Robert Cook and Depository Trust & Clearing Corp. President Michael Bodson.

If the ideas gain traction, they are certain to face opposition from the financial industry. Payment for order flow -- the practice of market makers paying securities firms for the right to execute clients’ stock orders -- is a revenue driver for most retail brokerages and they would be loathe to give it up.

The bill on family offices could force firms to register as investment advisers with the SEC if they manage more than $750 million. The sector is getting much closer scrutiny from Washington after Bill Hwang’s Archegos blew up in March, triggering billions of dollars of losses for banks.

Other proposals would:

  • Mandate brokers disclose to clients the share of retail investors who lost money on options trading.
  • Restrict market makers from executing their own trades ahead of some customer orders.

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