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Citadel CEO: HFT firms need to be secretive

High-frequency trading is secretive because it has to be, according to the head of one of the industry's biggest players.

Ken Griffin, CEO of Citadel, defended the industry as one that has helped market participants and lowered costs, but is also populated by firms that have to jealously guard their strategies and keys to success.

"What's shocking to those of us in the community is how many important ideas can be expressed in two sentences," Griffin said Wednesday at the Delivering Alpha conference presented by CNBC and Institutional Investor. "Because they are often very simple to record, you have to be careful how you express those ideas."

Ken Griffin, founder and chief executive officer, Citadel
David A. Grogan | CNBC
Ken Griffin, founder and chief executive officer, Citadel

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In Michael Lewis' controversial and much-discussed book "Flash Boys" released earlier this year, Citadel was cited in an anecdote for its secrecy. One passage noted that it took an employee five ID card swipes simply to start her day.

Griffin said that's probably about right, but he refused to apologize for the steps his firm takes to guard its intellectual property.

"What happens is the firms that have those insights work very hard to protect those insights, because they're so readily moved across organizations," he said. "The retail investor has been the (beneficiary) of the ... competition."

—By CNBC's Jeff Cox

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