Hidden Costs to Honest Deals

Written by Adam English
Posted January 13, 2022

Does this story apply to you? I'd bet it does.

The meadow wrecked, the garden uprooted, the grass trampled, the water hole muddied. Of all that came next, of these there was no doubt.

At the center of the meadow stood the Stag, triumphant and cruel. The Horse and Hunter shunted aside. The Horse could not face his might. The Hunter could not match his pace.

As the season waned, the Horse approached the Hunter, “You want the Stag and I want the meadow. Together or alone, it is now or never.”

The Hunter warily said, “If I can find a way to guide you, will you carry me?”

The next morning the Stag stood self-assured, as always, as the Hunter walked to the Horse. “With this iron in your mouth, and these straps on your side, I can guide you until my spear is close.”

The Horse agreed. The Stag was harried and fell. The Horse said, “At last it is all done. Let’s part as friends once you take off these things.”

“Not so fast, friend,” said the Hunter. “You’re now bound by my bridle, and there is so much more we can do together.”

So what should the title be, the one that gives it an edge?

This one has many, considering it’s been told for at least two eons in countless languages. Some versions mix it up and use a boar. Some are long and detailed, some even shorter than above.

“The Stag, Horse, and Hunter” is obvious enough, or any order of the three. “The Hunter’s Bridle” abandons any mystery right at the get-go.

What you’ll have an easy time finding is “The Horse That Lost Its Liberty.”

An honest fellow duped. Old myths and parables are rife with the trope. But consider — and this is important for any version of this particular story — that the Horse approaches the Hunter.

Specifically, consider yourself the Horse and don’t assume you are the Hunter. It sheds new light.

If you allow others to use you for your own purposes, they will also use you for theirs.

We should take this lesson to heart now more than ever, especially with our investments.

Nowhere is it more clear that, while we pursue our own purposes, we are being used for others’ than with Robinhood Financial.

From its start nearly nine years ago, it pitched itself as a way for normal people to get involved in the markets. A way to band together and displace the status quo.

It was a fantastic success as it gained a cult-like, then international, customer base that thrived using its no-fee structure and slick app to get in on the stock market game.

Win-win so far. Yet Robinhood had its own agenda on the side. Gleaning information on customer trades and selling it to institutional traders — the very type it claimed to be disrupting — for profit, especially Citadel Securities.

Ultimately, it went too far, and traders realized the bind they were truly in.

That was clearly reflected in the July 2021 $70 million fine by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, which followed a slew of fines, including a $65 million one levied by the Securities and Exchange Commission for misleading customers.

Now it is back in the news for something that may be far more threatening. A 27-year-old truck driver just won a nearly $30,000 FINRA judgment against the company for removing the ability of traders to buy shares or options in meme stocks.

Yet all this just amounts to picking on the newest kid on the block for some rather egregious and blatant behavior.

Robinhood sells data and restricts trading, but so do just about any other major platforms or investment companies.

Your retirement account providers limit investments to custom-built funds and arbitrarily restrict access to the best of them to high-net worth clients.

Your brokerage sells your data to high-frequency firms, often partially or fully owned by them, to front-run your trades and siphon off nickels and dimes.

And all of them prioritize transactions and route them through dark pools designed to make sure everyone but retail traders get the best prices.

Retirement accounts are some of the most absurd, delaying sell orders by weeks — thus removing our ability to choose what to do with our own money — under the guise that we're better off letting them control us to keep us from harming ourselves with volatility and panic-selling.

Just like the Horse, we must approach others to succeed in stock markets, and find ourselves restricted and bound by their purposes.

Maybe there is some hope the recent FINRA judgment will lead to more, and start to fracture the culture of investor exploitation at institutional investment companies. It’s a long shot.

Getting more and more of us to acknowledge the true terms of this Faustian bargain is a good start. And maybe, just maybe, the bridle will come off one day.

Take care,

adam english sig

Adam English

follow basic @AdamEnglishOC on Twitter

Adam's editorial talents and analysis drew the attention of senior editors at Outsider Club, which he joined in mid-2012. While he has acquired years of hands-on experience in the editorial room by working side by side with ex-brokers, options floor traders, and financial advisors, he is acutely aware of the challenges faced by retail investors after starting at the ground floor in the financial publishing field. For more on Adam, check out his editor's page

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