What Is Market Surveillance?

What Is Market Surveillance?

Market surveillance monitors and investigates abusive, manipulative, or illegal trading practices to ensure market fairness and integrity. Despite sophisticated systems, illegal activities persist, and ongoing adaptation and improvement are necessary to maintain a secure and transparent marketplace.


Market surveillance plays a vital role in maintaining the fairness and integrity of securities markets. Its purpose is to prevent and investigate abusive, manipulative, or illegal trading practices. By ensuring orderly markets, market surveillance fosters investor confidence, encourages participation, and supports economic growth. This surveillance function can be carried out by both the private and public sectors.

Participants in Market Surveillance

Market surveillance is conducted by various participants in both the private and government sectors. Private companies like Nasdaq, Inc. offer market surveillance solutions, such as their SMARTS product, which aids exchanges, regulators, and brokers in monitoring trading activities across different markets and asset classes. Similarly, the CME Group operates an in-house market surveillance team to detect and review trader positions and transactions within their exchange. Third-party providers like IBM and Thomson Reuters assist in customizing and setting up comprehensive surveillance capabilities for major exchanges such as NYSE Euronext.

On the government side, entities like the Securities and Exchange Commission's (SEC) Division of Enforcement oversee broad market surveillance to uphold securities laws and safeguard investors against fraud. Other government organizations, such as the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), focus on market surveillance within specific segments, like the futures market. Additionally, private self-regulatory organizations like the National Futures Association (NFA) also play a role in conducting market surveillance.

Challenges in Market Surveillance

Despite the existence of sophisticated market surveillance systems, it is evident that illegal activities, including insider trading schemes, persist regularly. This raises concerns about how such illegal trades can occur in the first place. Notable cases like Jerome Kerviel from Societe Generale and the "London Whale" from JPMorgan incurred substantial losses before their fraudulent activities were uncovered. Similarly, certain individuals responsible for manipulating the LIBOR rate for personal gain managed to evade detection for a significant period.

While market surveillance plays a vital role in detecting and preventing fraudulent activities, it is not foolproof. Determined individuals can exploit weaknesses in the system, finding ways to engage in illegal trading practices. Despite the best efforts of regulators and surveillance teams, there will always be individuals who attempt to bypass the rules and regulations.

Moreover, the landscape of trading regulations constantly evolves, and sophisticated techniques emerge to circumvent these rules. This dynamic environment places a responsibility on both internal and external system programmers and implementers to stay informed and up to date with the latest developments. It is crucial for them to continually enhance their knowledge and skills to effectively address and counteract emerging threats.

While market surveillance is a crucial aspect of maintaining the integrity of financial markets, it is important to acknowledge its limitations. Efforts to combat illegal trading activities must be an ongoing and collaborative endeavor involving regulatory bodies, surveillance teams, market participants, and technology experts. By constantly adapting and improving surveillance systems and practices, the financial industry can strive toward a more secure and transparent marketplace.


Market surveillance is an essential practice for maintaining the integrity and fairness of financial markets. While it is not foolproof, it plays a vital role in detecting and preventing fraudulent activities. The constant evolution of trading regulations and emerging threats requires ongoing collaboration and adaptation among regulators, surveillance teams, market participants, and technology experts to ensure a secure and transparent marketplace.

Market Surveillance
National Futures Association (NFA)
Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC)