What is an Online Trading Broker?
An online trading broker is simply an intermediary that facilitates buying and selling of securities over an electronic network. This kind of broker will allow its clients to open and close positions on digital platforms and execute trades at lightning speed.
Before the advent of the internet, investors would often find themselves placing a trade over the phone. This not only slowed down the overall trading process, but made it difficult for them to open multiple positions at once. With an online trading broker, individual traders have the luxury of managing multiple positions on their account simultaneously.
Online trading brokers offer a service wherein clients can opt out of deals that are inclusive of advisory and discretionary advice from the broker. Due to these new pathways, more individuals than ever have begun trading because of the low costs associated with execution-only brokers. In a way, online trading has made trading all the more inclusive and widespread.
The Pros and Cons of Using an Online Trading Broker?
- Cheaper and faster execution time
- Greater investor control
- Allows you to monitor investments in real-time
- Eliminates any intermediaries
- Allows you to trade from anywhere in the world
- Platforms are available on smartphones and laptops
- Transparent fee structures
- Ability to avoid broker bias
- Access to a plethora of online and customization tools
- One-click trading can foster poor investment choices
- Addictive nature
- No close relationship with the broker
- Reliant on fast internet speeds
- Software malfunctions may result in trading errors
- Inexperienced and unknowledgeable traders are allowed
How do Online Trading Brokers work?
You can create an account on their platform by providing adequate proof of identification. Once that’s over with and a deposit has been made to your account, you can now place your first trade.
With the best online brokers, BUY and SELL market orders are usually executed in real-time. What this means is that as soon as you click on “Open Trade”, an order to open a trade is immediately issued. Your order gets executed within seconds, however, multiple operations are happening behind.
Here is a step by step process of how an online trading broker works.
- A client starts with keying in an order with a chosen online broker with just a click. Although this saves time, you can choose not to use this feature and achieve the same results through multiple clicks.
- The order is now placed in the database, and the online brokerage will wade through the different markets like NYSE, NASDAQ, and ECNs or electronic communication networks, which are used to connect buyers and sellers.
- A confirmation message is sent to the brokers of both parties when both buyer and seller are matched.
- Regulatory bodies are then automatically informed of the order and price at which it was executed. These reputable organisations oversee all trading activities, making them public to all investors.
- Once the order is executed successfully, the exchange sends a contract to the brokers of both the buyer and seller.
- Most brokers have a T+3 settlement policy which dictates that any shares (or other securities involved) and cash must be exchanged in under 3 days.
- After this process, money due to the seller is deposited into their account.
What Assets can you Trade with Online Trading Brokers?
Online trading brokers offer access to all sorts of assets, permitting users to trade assets of their choice.
Forex trading, also known as Foreign Exchange trading, is defined as the trading of currencies from different countries against each other. Each online broker has its list of currency pairs that can be traded, some more than others. For example, while eToro offers only 49 currency pairs, Capital clients have access to nearly 138 pairs. Popular forex pairs include EUR/USD, GBP/USD, USD/JPY, AUD/USD, USD/CAD, and many more.
Stocks are financial instruments representing ownership in a company or organisation. Moreover, it entitles you to a proportionate claim on its earnings and assets. While some online trading brokers may allow investing in stocks in some particular regions, stock CFDs can be traded by nearly everyone. Apple, Tesla, Amazon, and Alibaba are some of the more notable examples.
Trading metals online gives investors an opportunity to diversify their portfolio and invest in tangible valuable things. The metal trading market is dominated by precious metals like gold, silver, and copper with a few online brokerages offering other less known metals like palladium and platinum.
These assets can be traded on online brokerages, just as easily offline. Commodities are goods of value that are consistent in quality and are often produced in massive volumes by an array of suppliers. They are divided into hard and soft commodities.
Hard ones include natural resources obtained through mining or other similar procedures, the most common being oil. On the other hand, soft commodities constitute mainly agricultural goods such as wheat, corn, sugar, and coffee.
This is used to keep track of a country’s economy’s performance levels or even a specific market sector. Online brokers offer many indices, all made up of many shares. The most popular indices include FTSE, DAX, ASX, and many more.
While it hasn’t been long since cryptocurrency rose to popularity, online brokers have already begun providing their clients access to industry favourites like Bitcoin, Litecoin, and Ethereum.
Cryptocurrencies are essentially digital currencies that are not controlled by any central entity but rather by a decentralised system, which automatically verifies and records the transactions in a database.
How to get Started with an Online Trading Broker?
Step 1: Open an Account and Verify your identity
We will be using eToro as an example in this section.
- Visit eToro.com and click on “start investing”. Create a simple account by entering a username, email id, and new password. You can also sign up directly with your Google or Facebook account.
- Complete your profile by clicking on the “Continue” button.
- Enter the basic personal information, like, your full name, gender, and date of birth.
- Follow up with details about your current residence.
- You will be asked about your trading experience with different assets and leveraged products.
- You will also be asked about your financial knowledge and should choose the correct option.
- Confirm your reason for trading and answer any questions related to your future trading activities, for example, the type of assets you will most probably be trading.
- Provide accurate information about your financial status.
- Your next step involves providing proof of identification which can be in the form of uploaded documents or a typed national ID number. Lastly, you will have to read the terms and agreement and select “confirm” to successfully create an account with them.
Step 2: Deposit Funds
Most online trading brokers, after the completion of your account, will enable you to deposit funds in your account using multiple different payment methods not limited to credit card, bank transfer etcetera. The following shows you the deposit funding procedure on eToro.
- On your dashboard, there will be an option to deposit funds. You can choose the amount you want to deposit, choose the payment method and enter the payment information. Your deposit will reflect on your account once the transaction is completed.
Step 3: Browse Supported Trading Markets and place a trade
Online trading brokers have different platforms, including desktop and mobile trading platforms, to help you easily place a trade from anywhere – be it on a smartphone or PC. Some even have web versions of their trading platforms so that you can access your trading activity without going through all the trouble of downloading the apps.
For example, it is possible to buy and sell directly from the web-based platform on eToro.
The Different Account Types of Online Trading Brokers
Online trading brokers usually offer different account types to meet the varying needs of their clients. These account types can vary from broker to broker, however, a few common ones are listed and explained below.
This is usually the default account for most online trading brokerages and many users start trading with it. It is also sometimes referred to as a retail account, better suited to those traders who are either beginners or have minimal trading experience.
A standard account will give you access to most if not all types of assets including forex, stocks, indices, and cryptocurrencies. There is usually no commission on this account type and you can use a small lot size of 0.01, as is the case with XTB.
This account is for traders that are well-versed in trading all types of assets and leveraged products. They have a complete understanding of the risks associated with trading and are not only able to effectively manage these risks but trade in large volumes. Clients with this account type are looking for greater maximum leverage on assets so that they can use higher margins to trade.
This type of account is usually only available to European, UK, and Australian clients as their legislation inhibits retail clients from trading with high leverages like 1:500. With a professional account, those who meet the below criteria will be able to trade with much riskier leverages of up to 1:500.
You will need to meet certain requirements before you can open a professional account. For example, Capital.com demands the following criteria be met before one is eligible for such account:
- 10 trades placed in the previous quarter (these trades have to be of significant size)
- The client’s portfolio exceeds 500,000 €
- The client has worked in the financial sector for no less than one year
To better cater to the needs of the middle eastern or Muslim client base, some online trading brokers offer a swap-free account – compliant with the Islamic sharia (law).
Swap fees are charged when a position is kept open overnight. A holder of a forex contract, may either earn or incur one – meaning that the fees can be positive or negative depending on the position/asset.
Muslims consider dealing in any form of interest is to be prohibited in Islam, therefore an Islamic account holder will not be permitted to receive or pay any kind of interest. For instance, any trades held overnight will not be tied to overnight interest fees or taxes.
Some online brokers, like eToro, allow users to open up demo accounts first before proceeding to a live account. With a demo account, users can practise trading strategies in a risk-free environment. It is a nearly accurate replica of a live trading account, the only difference being that instead of using real funds you can practise with virtual funds.
The main benefit of such an account is that it gives beginners an opportunity to learn about trading in a safe controlled environment – which takes into consideration all associated costs to give demo account holders an authentic experience minus the risk.
How to Choose the Best Online Trading Broker?
When choosing an online trading broker, consider the following factors when vetting for the best trading platform:
The best trading brokers will always be authorised and regulated by global regulatory bodies (if they operate internationally) because each region has its own set of rules and requirements that brokers must adhere to before offering their services to the country’s residents. Here are a few examples of such regulatory bodies.
Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC)
In Australia, ASIC is the national regulator for all brokers in the region. The body is tasked with regulating the financial services sector, and also enforcing laws that guarantee the protection of investors and consumers alike. Moreover, their website offers services to both businesses and consumers.
Financial Services Agency (FSA)
The Financial Services Agency was set up in July 2000. It functions both as a government agency and financial regulator that oversees banking, securities, and exchange among many other sectors to ensure that the financial system of Japan runs smoothly.
Cyprus Security Exchange Commission (CYSEC)
As an EU member, all financial regulations in the country are in agreement with the European MiFID financial harmonisation law. For any trading broker to begin offering their trading services and products in Cyprus, they must obtain a valid licence from CySEC.
Nearly all individuals and corporations offering, selling, or even simply promoting financial services or products in the UK have to be authorised and regulated by the FCA.
Set up in 2013, the FCA is currently the regulatory body for over 50,000 businesses. There are some requirements that trading platforms looking to offer their services in the UK must meet before the FCA can grant them authorisation. They then continue to supervise these firms for as long as they operate within UK borders, to ensure that standards and rules are met with due diligence.
Furthermore, if any broker under their jurisdiction files for bankruptcy and shuts down, the FCA compensates all the investors involved. Therefore, it is important to ensure that the FCA regulates the online broker you choose in the UK.
The Ability to Invest in International Stocks
Not only does the purchase or trade of foreign stocks expose investors’ portfolios to risk, but it also grants them an excellent opportunity to take advantage of positive economic growth elsewhere.
You need to be mindful of the reality that not all online brokers offer international stocks. Some do not have the right licences, and hence are unable to offer the stocks of a particular region. For example, with eToro, you have access to 17 stock markets, including NASDAQ, Stockholm, and many other international stock exchanges.
Availability of Leverage Trading
Leverage trading works by using a margin, which is essentially a deposit, to give you increased exposure to an underlying asset of your choice. You will only be paying a fraction of the full amount of the investment. In stock trading, this constitutes holding a larger position in a stock without paying the full purchase price.
This type of trading can help investors with less cash, improve their purchasing power, and consequently benefit from greater returns on their investments. However, it must be noted that while leverage trading can provide you with colossal profits, the potential for loss is just as great. Going in without adequate risk management skills could cost you tons of money, mostly the amount you initially deposited.
The maximum leverage for different assets varies, it can start from 1:2 and can be up to 1:500. Most online brokers will also allow you to change the leverage manually to reduce your risk.
Online brokers will charge users commissions for using their services and trading on their platforms. These fees may drastically differ depending on the type of account you have; most standard accounts do not feature any live interaction with the brokers, therefore you will be spared of any associated charges.
Another type of trading fee everyone should be aware of is spreads. This is the difference between the bid and ask prices of trading instruments like forex, indices, stocks, bonds, commodities and many more. This is subject to market conditions and is not charged directly by the broker. Some online brokerages may however charge fixed spreads.
What Commissions and Fees do Online Trading Brokers Charge?
Online trading brokers change both fees and commission. The fees are of two categories; trading and non-trading fees.
In the US, the commission will either be charged as a flat fee per trade or will vary depending on the number of shares traded. Following the latter method, the brokers will charge you a fee per share. So for example, if you buy $500 worth of shares at $0.010/share you will have to pay them a commission of $5 (500*0.010). On the flip side, purchasing stocks priced at $100 will only set you back $1.
As for trades in Europe, the commission is usually based on the volume of the trade. Both buying and selling come with different commission rates. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for online brokers to have a minimum charge that must be met before a trade can be placed.
Finally, the amount you pay in commission depends on the type of asset you wish to trade. Stocks and Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) might have different commission rates than cryptocurrencies for example. However, if the cost of this charge is too great for you, plenty of zero-commission brokers are in the market to lessen the cost of trading for you.
A spread is the difference between the bid and ask prices of a security or asset. Spreads are variable and are typically seen as a product of market forces rather than something online brokerages charge for executing orders.
Some brokers, like stockbrokers, do not interfere with market forces when it comes to spreads and refrain from adding any additional brokerage fees to the charge. While others, primarily CFD brokers, do incorporate brokerage fees into these spreads when quoting them. The cost to a client is, therefore, greater, because of the wider than necessary spread. Fortunately, these types of brokers usually do not charge any commission.
Swap fees can either be incurred or earned by a trader trading a CFD of any instrument. If the trader earns interest from the contract – it will be referred to as a positive swap. On the other hand, a negative swap is seen when the trader is paying interest on the contract.
Traders will also incur non-trading fees when trading on online trading platforms. Here are some of the common non-trading fees.
This is an amount charged to investors showing zero trading activity, which means they haven’t engaged in any buying or selling activities on their live accounts, for a period of time determined by the online trading brokerage. This can be easily avoided if you familiarise yourself with the broker’s inactivity fee policies, and make sure to place at least one trade before time runs out.
Currency Conversion Fee
Trades that are denominated in a currency other than the client’s base currency will be charged a currency conversion fee as the transaction requires a currency conversion.
Some brokers will charge their customers a one-time fee for downloading their platforms. Other costs that you could come across include all setup and subscription fees.
Deposit and withdrawal fees
When making a deposit or withdrawal, the brokerage and entity you are paying reserve the right to charge a small fee for every transaction made. Please note that not all brokers charge these fees.
How Much Do I Need to Start Investing with an Online Trading Broker?
When we compare online trading brokers, we usually look at their minimum deposit requirements and whether those rates are beginner-friendly. Most brokers will need you to deposit a minimum amount before you can begin trading on the platform, but after that, you are free to deposit as much or as little as you’d like (as long as you meet the transfer requirements on your preferred choice of payment method).
If we look at eToro, your country of residence also influences your minimum deposit amount. UK and US customers have to deposit only $10 to get started, while Israelis can only begin with a minimum of $10,000 in their accounts. But for the rest of the world, it is likely that they’ll only have to transfer $200 to get started.
Although most firms actually have minimum deposit requirements as low as $0 at times, some do need you to deposit a certain amount before you can start trading.
Also, the type of account you choose to operate from can impact this figure. For example, a broker may demand that you deposit at least $2000 before you begin trading on it for a margin account. This can be beneficial to you as it reduces the risk of depleting all your account funds with just a few trades.
In conclusion, the minimum deposit policies of the brokerage, in most cases, will be the primary factor determining the amount of funds you need to invest to get started. Additionally, the type of account you open can also determine the minimum deposit.
Funding with Online Trading brokers
Most brokers accept payments from all sorts of payment providers to make the transfer of deposits and funds accessible to all users, irrespective of their region of residence. This is especially true with international brokers. The following are some of the payment methods accepted for deposits and withdrawals: Bank wire, Credit cards, Debit cards, Cryptocurrencies, Skrill, Neteller, ApplePay, Trustly, Ideal, PayPal, and Sofort.
A deposit via bank transfer usually takes several business days to process, while other payment methods like PayPal and Neteller transfer funds to your account in no time. Furthermore, most payment methods like bank transfers, credit and debit card transfers also have minimum transfer amounts. For example, the minimum amount for a bank transfer is $500 on eToro, whereas Capital clients enjoy a lower minimum of $250. Additionally, if you transfer your funds via credit card or debit card your minimum amount on Capital plummets to $20.
Withdrawals on the other hand typically take 1-2 business days to be processed and some brokers even have a return to source policy, meaning that funds can only be withdrawn via the payment method previously used for depositing them into your account.
Additionally, you should be aware that brokers will charge you deposit and withdrawal fees, perhaps when using a particular payment method or in general.
What Platforms Do Online Trading Brokers Offer?
A web-based platform allows you to place orders directly from your browser. You do not have to download or install additional software to view your trading activity, saving a lot of storage for other things. It can be accessed by simply typing the broker’s website URL into a browser’s address bar, such as Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, or Internet Explorer.
To access your account, you will be asked to log in each time and there are multiple features like search functionality that will help you easily navigate the platform. Furthermore, it is user-friendly and is available in a plethora of languages to the benefit of non-English speakers.
The downside of such platforms is that the amount of customization you can do is severely restricted.
Most brokers have their own mobile trading platform, which provides users with an authentic experience. Such applications enable them to check trading activity on the go, and even in situations where they might not have access to their PCs. All you really need is an internet connection and some storage space.
The mobile trading platforms also offer alerts that can be issued as notifications, immediately notifying you of any important changes. Price alerts too are more visible than ever before.
Another advantage mobile trading platforms have over other types of trading platforms is their easy-to-use and easy-to-learn user interfaces. Most features and charts on mobile trading platforms are kept minimalistic and simple, making it easier for a beginner to understand the marketplace and all the different features a trading platform has to offer.
Lastly, we have desktop trading platforms. These are the most common ones, and almost all online trading brokers do offer one of these. They are downloaded onto your computer via a link on the broker’s websites or other app stores.
Once downloaded, the platform makes good use of the greater screen size that PCs have and offer traders all the information and customizability they could ever need.
MetaTrader 4 (MT4) is a really popular desktop-based trading platform that is used by a lot of online trading brokers for their services. This electronic trading platform’s software is licensed to forex brokers who can then make the software available to their clients. It is designed purely for CFD forex instruments.
MetaTrader 5 (MT5) is the new and improved version of MT4. It is much faster and more efficient than its predecessor. Moreover, you can use it for both centralised and decentralised financial markets; it has quickly become the go-to multi-asset trading platform for investors looking to trade all sorts of assets. This includes everything from stocks to futures. All trading instruments are available on the MT5.
Is Online Trading legal?
The European Commission has always taken a stand to remove online barriers so that its residents can enjoy the financial services and products offered online. Multiple regulatory bodies across Europe provide licences to online trading brokers seeking to offer their financial services to European residents.
One such example is the Cyprus Securities and Exchange Commission (CYSEC). It is the financial regulatory agency of Cyprus, which is an EU member. Consequently, CySEC’s financial regulations, operations, and policies are in agreement with the European MiFID financial harmonisation law.
While most European countries are laid back about restrictions on online trading, there are a handful that make it extremely difficult to obtain licences. For example, in France, there is heavy regulation of forex trading brokers by the AMF.
Furthermore, in countries like Belgium, only professional traders are allowed to trade in the forex market, making retail trading illegal.
The Rest of The World
Online trading brokers now offer their services on a global scale and have loads of international clients. A lot of countries have set up their own regulatory bodies, for example, in Australia, the Australian Investments and Security Commission (ASIC) requires brokers to register with them before they can legally offer their financial products to Australian nationals. However, not all countries have legalised online trading for their citizens.
Countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan have outlawed online trading, be it forex or CFD trading, and dealing with unauthorised dealers in these territories could result in punitive measures being taken against the perpetrator.
Check with your country of residence, before signing up for an account with an online broker. If the country’s regulatory body doesn’t regulate them, chances are trading with them is considered illegal.
Are Online Trading Brokers Safe?
Yes! Most online trading brokers are safe, given that they have adequate regulation, insurance, and other policies in place – among other things – to protect client funds.
When deciding which is the best online trading broker for traders, we must make sure that the broker’s insurance policies are sufficient to reimburse customers in the event of bankruptcy and that they also have other schemes in place, like negative balance protection to protect their clients. It is also essential that consumer funds are stashed away only in trustworthy banks.
In the event that the broker goes bankrupt, clients are reimbursed the amount they’d lost (up to a certain extent) if it is regulated and has satisfactory insurance policies in place. For instance, some online brokers have insurance policies with Lloyd’s of London which protects clients’ funds for up to £1 million. In the UK under the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, the minimum that brokers are required to offer is only £50,000 – making Lloyd’s insurance policy one of the best in the UK.
Moreover, under the negative balance protection scheme, brokers promise to zero out the balance in client accounts once it is proven that they have begun to lose more money than they had initially deposited. This ensures that the clients are never in debt to the firm. Finally, trusted brokers will only store funds in top banks to minimise the risk of losing them. All funds are safely stored in these banks, and can be retrieved whenever a person wishes to (as long as the withdrawal amount is greater than the minimum set and the client meets all other minimum deposit requirements set by the broker).
What Reddit & Quora Users Say About the Best Online Trading Broker
Reddit users have different views on the best online trading brokers.
This particular Reddit user is satisfied with eToro CopyTrader which allows him to copy the investments and trading strategies of professionals, or as he mentions “best performing traders”.
While this other user disagrees and prefers capital.com over other online trading brokers. She has had a “good” experience with them so far, and has voiced her love for the “very responsive customer service” and “fast deposit and withdrawal” they offer clients.
When asked about XTB, this Reddit user’s review was for the most part positive and they emphasised that their trading experience could differ based on their “country”. There were a few negative reviews on XTB too.
In response to being asked about his opinions on Plus500, the user below agreed that while it is a good platform for short-term trading, in the “long run” it may end by “costing money” to the client.
This user has praised the “efficient trading” that Pepperstone offers and prefers it over other brokers.
Many Quora users agreed that although other brokers sometimes had an edge over XTB, the number of assets they offer is unparalleled.
A Russian user was delighted to share that eToro was the most beginner-friendly app according to her because it was the “most straightforward” and “easy to use” broker out there.
“Marshall” on Quora, states that he had absolutely “no regrets” about choosing Capital.com signifying a positive experience with the broker in question.
An Australian user dedicated to the “Pepperstone” platform has been on it for over 9 years. He enunciated, “they are the best Australian broker” which is a huge nod to their Australian platform.
Jody Bailey has chosen Plus500 as one of her top online trading brokers. She points out that they are distinguished because of “their services” and “deposit fees” among many other things.
Firstly, the best online trading brokers are also the safest. They are regulated by all sorts of reputable institutions which not only removes any fear of getting exploited but promises you the very best compensation plan if the broker were to ever go bankrupt. Furthermore, schemes like negative protection balance spare clients from any additional anxiety.
Secondly, these online trading brokers have state-of-the-art platforms equipped with the latest features and fastest execution speeds so that you never miss out on a lucrative trade. The login process couldn’t be easier, and you can in most cases begin trading as soon as you’ve deposited a sum into your account. Don’t forget that you can sign up for an account that works best for you. It could be a standard, demo, Islamic or professional one.
Thirdly, these online trading brokers provide you access to a suite of assets of different types. They have the world’s top-performing shares, indices, cryptocurrencies, indices, and commodities all listed on their platform – ready for you to pick the one you like and begin trading with it.
Due to their international reach, they can offer the industry the most competitive trading and non-trading fees. Additionally, the availability of leverage trading can help you have more margin to trade with and do away with any hindrance the lack of funds could’ve caused when trading in these volatile markets.
Q & A
The best online trading broker would be the one that can offer you the cheapest rates (for example, very tight spreads and a zero-commission policy) all the while not compromising on other factors such as the number of assets available and efficient trading platforms. The broker should have all the assets you’re looking to trade, and preferably an international client base because that shows that they are highly reputable and trustworthy. Furthermore, they should have attractive insurance policies and be regulated by reputable bodies. The online brokerage – eToro – ticks all these boxes and is a strong contender in the industry.
While nearly all the ones mentioned above are great places for beginners to start, eToro, known for its eToro copy trader program, is the most beginner-friendly one on the market right now. Furthermore, its global presence makes it more likely that the platform will be available in your respective region.
Quite a few online trading brokers require no minimum deposit to begin exploring their trading platform and to use all their features. With that being said, in order to place a trade, you will need to have sufficient funds in your account for it to be executed.
Brokers do not limit the number of investments you want to make, i.e. you can deposit and invest as much as you like. However, it is advisable to begin with a relatively small amount and work up from there because as a beginner you do not have adequate knowledge and risk-assessment skills to deal with highly risky but profitable trades. Start with something manageable, and something that you would be comfortable losing.
After you’ve singled out the best broker for you based on a number of personal factors, you simply have to go to their official website, create an account and you are ready to start trading.
The main costs you are likely to encounter come from commission collected – if you can find a zero-commission broker with no strings attached to it, you will be making sure that your costs are minimised. It is worth mentioning that there are a number of other trading and non-trading fees to take into consideration too, but a lot of them can be avoided if you make wise decisions such as carrying out transactions in the same currency as your base currency to prevent incurring currency conversion costs.
An online trading brokerage account is an online account where you can buy and sell securities and trading assets over an electronic network. You can create this account with an online broker to start trading in all types of markets including but not limited to forex, cryptocurrencies, and stocks. There are different types of accounts that you can opt for, and these have been discussed in great detail above.