Is It Possible for Retail Traders to Become Market Makers?

It’s technically possible for small traders to become market makers.

Market making is not limited by the size of the entity but by its ability to comply with the rules and provide continuous liquidity to the market.

Nonetheless, there are significant challenges and it requires adherence to specific regulatory, financial, and technological requirements


Key Takeaways – Is It Possible for Retail Traders to Become Market Makers?

  • Regulatory and Capital Challenges
    • Small traders trying to become market makers have to navigate strict regulatory requirements and secure substantial capital to manage securities effectively.
    • There are significant entry barriers.
  • Technological Investment
    • Success in market making demands advanced technological infrastructure, including high-speed trading systems and sophisticated algorithms, which may be cost-prohibitive for small traders.
  • Niche Opportunities
    • Despite the hurdles, small traders can find opportunities in less liquid markets or through quality trading strategies, where they can offer unique value and potentially thrive as market makers.


Here are several key factors small traders should consider if they aspire to become market makers:

1. Regulatory Requirements

Market makers are subject to strict regulatory requirements, including registration with the relevant financial regulatory authorities, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in the United States or the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in the United Kingdom.

They must also comply with the rules of the exchanges on which they intend to make markets.


2. Capital Requirements

To be effective, market makers must have sufficient capital to manage the inventory of securities they buy and sell.

The exact capital requirements can vary by market and jurisdiction.

But they’re typically substantial, especially in highly liquid markets.

So market makers tend to be big, institutional players.


3. Technology and Infrastructure

Market making requires sophisticated technology infrastructure, including high-speed trading platforms, advanced algorithms, and real-time data analysis tools.

Developing or acquiring such technology can be prohibitively expensive for small traders.


4. Operational Capabilities

Effective market making requires the ability to manage risk, including the use of automated systems for order execution, inventory management, and compliance monitoring.

Small traders would need to develop these operational capabilities.


5. Competitiveness

Market making is highly competitive, dominated by firms with deep pockets and cutting-edge technology.

Small traders would need to find niches where they can be competitive or offer unique value.


Strategies for Small Traders

Niche Markets

Small traders might find opportunities in less liquid or smaller markets where the large market makers are less active.

Technology and Innovation

Developing innovative trading algorithms or niche strategies can provide an edge.


Collaborating with technology providers or other financial institutions can help small traders overcome some barriers to entry.


Example of Market Making Trade Execution

Here’s a step-by-step example of a simplified market-making strategy, along with how it generates profit:


  • Asset: Shares of XYZ company
  • Current Best Bid: $9.99 (Someone is willing to buy at this price)
  • Current Best Ask: $10.01 (Someone is willing to sell at this price)

Market Maker Strategy

  • Provide Liquidity: The market maker places both a buy and a sell order:
  • Buy Order: $9.98 (for 100 shares)
  • Sell Order: $10.02 (for 100 shares)
  • A Buyer Arrives: A buyer wants to purchase 50 shares of XYZ immediately.  They take the market maker’s sell order at $10.02
  • A  Seller Arrives: Now, a seller wants to sell 75 shares of XYZ immediately. They take the market maker’s buy order at $9.98

Profit Calculation

  • The Buy: The market maker bought 75 shares for $9.98 each (total cost = $748.50)
  • The Sell: The market maker sold 50 shares for $10.02 each (total revenue = $501.00)
  • Spread: The market maker’s profit on these trades is the difference between the buy and sell prices ($10.02 – $9.98 = $0.04 per share).
  • Total Profit: Across the 50 shares they bought and sold, the total profit is $2.00 (50 shares * $0.04/share).

Key Points

  • The Bid-Ask Spread: The profit for a market maker comes from the bid-ask spread. The tighter the spread, the harder it is to make a profit consistently.
  • Volume: Market makers rely on high volumes of trades to generate significant profits from small spreads.
  • Risk: Market makers take on risk by holding inventory. If the price of XYZ falls sharply after they bought shares, they might have to sell at a loss.
  • Advanced Techniques: Real-world market making is extremely complex, involving:
    • Sophisticated algorithms for dynamic order placement
    • Hedging strategies to manage risk

Let’s look deeper by focusing on inventory management, risk management, and the continuous market-making process, with an emphasis on how these aspects relate to the example.

Inventory Adjustment

After executing the trades – buying 75 shares at $9.98 and selling 50 shares at $10.02 – the market maker has an additional net inventory of 25 shares of XYZ company.

The market maker must now reassess its position based on this new inventory level.

Given the market maker’s objective to facilitate trading while minimizing inventory risk, it may adjust its buy and sell orders to rebalance its inventory.

For instance, if it seeks to reduce its holding of XYZ shares to limit inventory risk, it might slightly lower its sell price to make it more attractive or increase its buy price cautiously to avoid large accumulations.


Risk Management

Holding an inventory of shares exposes the market maker to market risk – i.e., price movements against its position.

In our scenario, the market maker now holds 25 additional shares of XYZ.

If the price of XYZ falls below $9.98, the market maker faces a potential loss on those shares.

To manage this risk, the market maker might employ hedging strategies such as purchasing put options on XYZ shares, which increase in value if XYZ’s price falls, offsetting the loss on the shares.

Additionally, the market maker continuously monitors markets and adjusts its inventory levels and hedging positions dynamically to manage risk effectively.


Further Trades and Market Making

The market maker continues to provide liquidity to the market by placing new buy and sell orders around the current market price, adjusting these orders based on market conditions, inventory levels, and risk appetite.

For example, if the market maker’s analysis – e.g., via book skew and other metrics/algorithms – suggests that the price of XYZ is likely to increase, it might set its new buy order slightly higher than $9.98 to acquire more shares before the price rise.

Conversely, if expecting a price decrease, it might lower its sell order price to liquidate more of its inventory before the drop.

Through this continuous process, the market maker seeks to profit from the bid-ask spread while maintaining a manageable inventory level and mitigating risk.


Key Points and Considerations in Real-world Context

  • Adapting to Market Conditions – Real-world market making requires the ability to quickly adapt to changing markets, including significant news events that may impact stock/security/asset prices.
  • Algorithmic Trading – Sophisticated algorithms are used for dynamically adjusting buy and sell orders, managing inventory, and implementing risk management strategies efficiently.
  • Volume and Spread – While the profit per share might seem small, high trading volumes can lead to high profits. The market maker’s ability to maintain a favorable bid-ask spread under varying market conditions is key to its profitability.
  • Risk Diversification – Besides hedging, market makers often diversify their risk by making markets in multiple assets, thus spreading out their exposure across different sectors or asset classes.

This example emphasizes the balance between providing liquidity, managing inventory, and lowering risk, all while striving to profit from the bid-ask spread in high-volume trading environments.



Market making is a highly specialized and competitive area of trading.

It requires substantial investment in technology, expertise, and a deep understanding of market dynamics and regulatory requirements.

While becoming a market maker is challenging for small traders, particularly due to regulatory, capital, and technological requirements, there are pathways through niche strategies and innovative approaches.

It’s essential for small traders to conduct thorough research and possibly seek partnerships or seek niches where they can be competitive.