Peterffy is a genius. He was among the first to use computers to determine the value of stocks, and subsequently execute trades without the need of a human.

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It’s hard to grasp now, when 88% of all U.S. adults own a cell phone and 46% of all American adults use smartphones, but Peterffy was way ahead of his time. He actually created a robot to execute trades after learning that regulation required all trades by typed on a keyboard.

His innovation created real social value. Automating trading reduced the cost, saving people money on commissions. It’s reminiscent of what we’re trying to do at Betterment with automation and ease of use.

It’s a nostalgic story too, about an entrepreneurial immigrant from Hungary, finding fame and fortune in the US.

I found it interesting to learn that even Peterffy thinks that we’ve reached a point of absurdity in high speed trading. He believes that the ongoing “arms race” to shave milliseconds off of trades offers no social value and makes the market less stable.

It’s a bit like the technology conundrum we’ve discussed before.