Cost-Plus Billing: The Consequence of Growing Your Trading Business

Following up on my last blog about commission sharing arrangements and client commission agreements (CSA credits), I wanted to talk about some of the unexpected consequences (or requirements) that fall out of offering these arrangements. Nothing here is bad or problematic, unless you don’t understand it or are ill-prepared to address some additional client needs.

Based on recent news in the trade press and feedback from recent meetings, it appears that commission dollars and volumes for some agency broker dealers are starting to grow again. That’s good news. We think it’s driven in part by the use of Commission Sharing, CSA agreements and the access to new research.

However, this also has another consequence. Clients want to view their unbundled execution costs, seeing how much they are paying for this research as well as having greater transparency into their execution costs. In fact, it’s clear that clients are asking for cost-plus arrangements.

What does this mean? Well, in order to maintain that client, you’ll need to systematically calculate the specific costs of each trade, including maker/taker fees, complex exchange fees, SEC fees and other charges. Clients now expect you to charge them these explicit fees with an agreed upon mark-up. No longer can you charge the typical $0.04-$0.05 all-in commission fee.

The moment you fail to show these explicit costs and verify the mark-up, you’ll lose those clients and commission dollars to the next broker-dealer who can. You’ll have lost a client and wasted the resources that acquired in the first place. Even as commission dollars begin to rise, no one wants to take for granted a client relationship and lose it simply due to their inability to provide transparency and cost-plus billing.

Are you prepared?