Other than choosing a marriage partner, this might be one of the most important decisions an individual can make. Indeed, a broker is a business “partner” much like a spouse and both can help or hurt your finances in more ways than you can count.
Most of us learn by experience, usually bad experience. That's certainly the case with forex trading, and even more so when it comes to choosing and working with forex brokers. Here are few helpful hints derived from the experiences of traders:
Spreads. The number one criteria that many use when choosing a broker. This is understandable since the spread is the major cost or expense of trading and can be especially critical for high volume intraday traders and scalpers. Spreads on major currency pairs amongst brokers vary widely, with some close to a low of .20 of a pip, while some of most popular and largest brokers charging 2-4 pips . Moreover, some currency brokers offer fixed spreads while others have variable spreads. The best way to choose is to compare the average number of trades one expects to do each month and compare the fixed to variable spread cost. Traders whom are more active during the times when the market is most liquid or volatile, might find the fixed spread broker or account type preferable. Another way to decide which broker to choose (assumes consideration of the other factors discussed below) is what currency pairs or commodities will a trader focus on? If the trader is concentrating on exotics or crosses, then they will also need to compare those rates, which can be many multiples higher than the major currency pairs. Traders whom focus on metals (gold and silver) for example, might find that there is only a small difference between brokers spreads, so this could relegate spreads to a lesser priority when deciding on a broker. It should also be noted that many of the brokers offering the lowest “too good to be true” spreads , are not good choices for a variety of other factors. In fact, some brokers whom offer low spreads do so as it's the only way they can compete in a market crowded with brokers.
Commission. Electronic Communications Network (ECN) trading brokers, those with institutional platforms like Currenex or their own proprietary platforms will generally charge a commission in addition to the spread. These brokers tend to be the most transparent and spreads are usually close to the lowest interbank rates. ECN brokers will have variable spreads, but normally the commission is fixed, with discounted commission rates on larger orders placed over a specific period. ECN brokers-or those that call themselves such- give traders direct access to the market. True ECN brokers will have Depth of Market (DOM) modules in their platforms which provide data related to market liquidity.
Leverage. It's a beautiful thing when it works for you, but when it works against you, it can destroy your account. Leverage is the ability to buy or sell much more than your trading capital would permit, so it's key for the majority of forex traders. Some online forex brokers offer up to 1:1000 and a handful offer 1:2000 leverage for micro and mini accounts, while others offer 1:400 or 1:500 in standard accounts. The average is closer to 1:200 while larger accounts will generally be at lower leverage levels of 1:100 or 1:50. Financial regulations cap the leverage that many brokers can offer, and it's usually tied to the size of the account. Some brokers allow leverage to be adjusted directly through the trading platform, while others require email notification.
Platform. The majority of retail traders use the MetaTrader 4 (MT4) platform, though there has been a shift to the MetaTrader 5 (MT5) by some traders due to it's “one click” fast entry and exit features. More brokers are starting to offer the MT5 platform which has motivated the larger MT4 only brokers to offer enhanced MT4 platforms which also feature “one click” entries. MT4 has the greatest number of technical and custom indicators available for download, as well as Expert Advisers (EA), and this can be important factor when choosing the right trading venue. Other platform choices are Trading Station II, proprietary platforms from some of the more popular retail brokers, as well as Ninja Trader platform. In addition, there are institutional platforms used by banks that are now being offered for the retail market.
Dealing Desk, Market Makers and NDD. These are some of the most important considerations when choosing a broker. Is the broker a market maker? If they are, their interests may or may not be aligned with yours and they could work against you. Indeed, these fx brokers make money from spreads, act as buffers, adding another layer of intermediary between trader and market. They routinely trade against their clients and make money when the trader loses. Brokers whom advertise as Non Dealing Desk (NDD) are generally ECN and/or STP brokers and provide direct market access which translates into fewer or no re-quotes for the trader, more transparency and less market manipulation, as well as hastier execution during highly liquid market conditions.
Straight Through Processing (STP). No, not the STP auto product once advertised as the “racer's edge.” This one is the “trader's edge,” and refers to Straight Through Processing. These brokers send orders from clients directly to the interbank market and liquidity providers such as large banks. Greater liquidity means orders are filled more rapidly. FX Brokers whom offer true ECN platforms, No Dealing Desk AND STP should be given the highest consideration by those deciding on a broker.
Automated trading. As more traders use robots, trading algorithms or Expert Advisors on their platforms, traders may want to check if their broker has any restrictions on their uses. Some high speed scalping algorithms (algos) will not work through some brokers due to speed of orders, or broker's spread, which could be prohibitive.
Market Hours. While the markets are open 24 hours for 5 days of the week, they do have specific trading hours or sessions, and it is worth noting the forex trading hours offered by the broker. Some brokers have platform maintenance during off hours, or they calculate swaps on a different timetable. It's also worth noting that a few brokers allow trades to be adjusted during the weekend and some open earlier than others. This could affect traders, particularly those whom want to get a jump on the Asian and Pacific market openings after a weekend.
Margin requirement. This varies with each broker-as does the margin account interest rate- and should always be taken into consideration as it can affect the strategies and trading methods that one wishes to employ.
Account Types. Does the broker use ECN technology ? Do they have Islamic accounts? Do they offer micro, mini or only standard accounts? What are the deposit requirements for each type of account? Most retail traders would probably consider the deposit requirement key in their decision. Fortunately, many brokers are now offering more features to traders with initial deposits under $1,000.
Segregated accounts. Some brokers will hold trader's account deposits in separate funds not co-mingled with the brokerage or company funds. This can be important especially if the broker encounters financial problems or goes bankrupt, as the funds enjoy some degree of legal protection.
Trading Instruments. Check what instruments can be traded. Many currency brokers have limited currency pairs and commodities offerings, though some will have extensive pairs including many of the most obscure exotics, commodities like oil and metals like platinum as well as the increasingly popular Contracts for Difference (CFDs). It's a good idea to go with the broker whom offers more choices as traders often find their setups and strategies have applications beyond major currency pairs. Another point to consider is that traders may want to delve into futures and options. The brokers that can offer all possibilities, are worth considering.
Rollover or Swap. This is the amount of interest paid or earned by the trader for leaving trades open overnight. This can be important for traders whom participate in the “carry trade,” earning interest on buying high yielding currencies with low yielding ones, or those that employ trading strategies requiring them to keep trades open for a length of time beyond a day.
Slippage. You place an order at a certain price, only to find that it has been placed at a different price, which could reduce or eliminate your profit, and always increases the cost of theThis can occur for a variety of reasons, from placing orders in highly volatile markets, slow internet speed, slow platform speed, or because the broker profits from the increased spread. This is a very important factor when choosing a broker. Unfortunately, traders may not discover this until they detect a pattern of slippage after they have opened a live account. Best to start small with any broker.
Hedging. Most forex brokers and platforms offer hedging. However, brokers in the United States are prohibited by the National Futures Association (NFA) from offering hedging, so traders whom wish to employ this trading strategy will likely look for brokers located outside the USA.
Minimum stop or limit orders. Some brokers restrict stops and limits to a minimum distance from the trade price. On average, this is generally about 2 pips, though some brokers have 5 pips+ requirements. This can be insignificant to some traders, but for scalpers or those employing high speed automated trading methods, this can be prohibitive.
Regulation. Most of the top forex brokers reviewed are located within jurisdictions covered by financial regulation. While the coverage can vary, it usually includes provisions for protection of trader account funds in the case of broker bankruptcy or fraud, as well as capital requirements for the broker. In the United States, brokers are regulated by the National Futures Association (NFA). In the United Kingdom, they come under the Financial Services Authority (FSA). Switzerland, Canada, Australia, Japan, the EU and Scandinavian countries also have their own regulatory organizations which provide protection for traders, though the NFA and FSA are the standard bearers. It's also important to note that some brokers located outside the United Kingdom can be registered with the FSA UK, though their status may not be as stringent since they come under local regulations as well.
Reputation. Before choosing a broker, it's a good idea to check the blogs and forums related to forex trading, especially those containing broker reviews and ratings. Traders seem to be a talkative lot, and share quite a bit of information about every facet of trading. Broker opinions and anecdotes tend to get the most attention, either praise or vitriol. It can seem ironic, but some brokers whom receive poor reviews, are often the most prolific advertisers on these sites. Doing due diligence before one opens a live trading account can save a lot of heartache and money later on.
Geographical exclusions. Although trading is a global business, it's local in some regards. Many brokers are legally prohibited from offering their services to some regions of the world. Ironically, many traders whom are citizens of, or reside in the United States, are restricted from opening accounts or trading with many brokers outside the USA. This is a result of U.S. financial and tax reporting requirements that non U.S. brokers find difficult to comply with.
Promotional offers. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Some brokers now offer large deposit bonuses as a way of attracting clients. This can be useful for traders, though the funds are often teasers and withdrawn from the client's account after a certain period or if the account balance drops below a certain level. Traders should consider other factors and ask themselves why a broker would offer bonuses in the first place. After all, there is no free lunch and chances are the trader is paying for that bonus some other way.
Demo Accounts. Always a good idea to take a car out for a test drive before buying. The same for a forex broker. Try the demo account for at least 30 days, and maybe longer. Be advised that live accounts with the same broker, may not be as seamless an experience as trading the demo account. Traders sometimes find that their live accounts don't execute trades as rapidly or efficiently, Slippage-which may not have been an issue with the demo account-can become one with the live account. Many traders therefore, will give the live account a “test drive” as well, depositing fewer funds until the broker exits their “probationary” period.
Customer Service. At some juncture, traders will have a need to contact their broker to resolve a technical, account or trading issue. The level and quality of customer support can make a huge difference in the trading experience. Many of the top forex brokers assign customer service representatives to traders, regardless of account size. The bottom line is how quickly and diligently these support staff work to fix problems and whether they followup with their tasks. Brokers that reply, call or email in a timely matter tend to be brokers that traders want to stick with, even when spreads or leverage are not optimal.
Payment and Withdrawal Options. The more the merrier. One should also take note of the length of time for processing as this can vary from broker to broker. Traders should also be aware that payment options don't necessarily correspond to withdrawal methods. Some brokerages will allow payments via one method such as PayPal, but have restrictions on how funds can be withdrawn. Transparency on the broker's website is key and it's worth asking the broker via email about their the details of their policies as some require transfers to be approved by their in-house financial departments, and may restrict amounts as well as withdrawal destinations.