Bucketing: Unveiling Unethical Broker Practices

Bucketing: Unveiling Unethical Broker Practices

3 Min.

Bucketing is an unethical practice in which brokers deceive clients about trade execution by confirming orders that never take place. The broker attempts to execute orders at more favorable prices than originally quoted to the client, pocketing the difference as profit. Brokers who engage in such practices are known as "bucket shops." This deceptive practice prioritizes the broker's interests over the client's, eroding trust and misleading clients.


Bucketing involves brokers confirming trades without executing them, aiming to later secure better prices and pocket the profit difference. This practice is detrimental to clients, as brokers prioritize personal gains over clients' interests.

Clients trust brokers to execute trades optimally. Bucketing capitalizes on this trust by deceiving clients. For instance, when a buy order occurs, the broker claims the purchase happened at a specific price when it was lower. Similarly, for sell orders, they state selling prices lower than actual. The broker pockets the profit margin between actual and stated prices, undermining the client's gains.

The term "bucket shop" historically referred to illicit or semi-legal gambling businesses. Recently, it signifies brokerage firms indulging in unethical actions like bucketing.

Retirement Bucketing Strategy

Bucketing also refers to a retirement strategy where assets are grouped into "buckets" based on their intended use. Unlike conventional methods, retirees access specific buckets at different stages of retirement, ensuring financial stability throughout life.

Bucketing serves as a three-step financial planning process. It starts with establishing an emergency fund in the first bucket, progressing to achieving financial goals in the second, and finally securing retirement in the third.

Financial planner Harold Evensky pioneered the bucket strategy for retirement portfolios. His approach includes a cash bucket with five years of expenses and a long-term investment bucket primarily containing stocks.

Example of Bucketing

John, a broker, frequently practices bucketing. His client, Jane, trusts him to prioritize her interests in executing trades. Jane requests 100 shares of ABC Corporation at $10 per share or lower. John confirms the trade at $10 per share but actually executes it at $9 per share, pocketing the $1 difference per share, totaling $100.

Portfolio Management

The bucket approach allocates assets within a portfolio into distinct groups. For instance, a 60/40 portfolio allocates 60% to stocks and 40% to bonds. Even within equities, buckets could encompass different stock types, while a bond-only portfolio may be divided by maturity dates.

Bank Account Buckets

Banking bucketing involves managing money through multiple bank accounts for distinct purposes, like bills, entertainment, vacations, and emergencies. This strategy simplifies financial management and helps struggling individuals avoid debt or savings challenges.


Bucketing, a deceitful broker practice, betrays client trust by confirming unexecuted trades, aiming to pocket profit differences later. This unethical act, termed "bucketing," exposes the broker's prioritization of personal gains over client interests. This practice runs counter to ethical brokerage standards and tarnishes the financial industry's integrity.

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