The first step in the real world of forex is opening an account with a broker. But be warned! Brokers love to hunt for noobs.
History of Retail Forex Trading
Now that you know a little about forex, you’re probably itching to start your pippin’ adventures.
But before you set off on your journey, you need one more thing… An actual account with a broker! Of course, we want you to work with a broker that will provide the right services for your individual needs, so we decided to come up with this section to walk you through the right things to consider when choosing!
But first, we’ll begin by revisiting the pages of history to find out how brokers came to life. Name the best thing that the mighty powers of the Internet have brought us. YouTube, Facebook, Netflix, Yes, those are all awesome.
But what we want to talk about is the greatest gift to forex junkies like you and me: Retail FX trading!
In fact, forex junkies probably wouldn’t exist if not for the birth of online forex brokers.
You see, back in the 90s, it was much more difficult to participate in the retail FX market because of higher transactions costs.
At that time, governments were like strict parents keeping a watchful eye on exchanges, restricting their activities. After a time, the CFTC decided that enough is enough.
They passed a couple of bills, namely the Commodity Exchange Act and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, and opened the doors for online forex brokers.
Since almost everyone had access to the worldwide web, opening an account with a forex broker was simple and convenient.
Various forex brokers started popping up here and there, eager to take advantage of the booming forex industry.
But now that there are many choices out there, it’s a little tougher to distinguish between the good brokers and the evil ones.
We’re not kidding about the evil ones, which are also known as bucket shops, and we’ll delve into that a little later.
Forex Broker Types: Dealing Desk and No Dealing Desk
The first step in choosing a forex broker is finding out what your choices are.
You don’t just walk into a restaurant, knowing what to order right away, do you? Not unless you’re a frequent customer there, of course. More often than not, you check out their menu first to see what they have to offer.
There are two main types of forex brokers:
- Dealing Desks (DD)
- No Dealing Desks (NDD).
Dealing Desk brokers are also called Market Makers.
No Dealing Desks can be further subdivided into:
- Straight Through Processing (STP) and
- Electronic Communication Network + Straight Through Processing (ECN+STP).
What is a Dealing Desk Broker?
Forex brokers that operate through Dealing Desk (DD) brokers make money through spreads and providing liquidity to their clients. Also called “market makers,”Dealing Desk brokers literally create a market for their clients, meaning they often take the other side of a clients trade.
While you may think that there is a conflict of interest, there really isn’t.
Market makers provide both a sell and buy quote, which means that they are filling both buy and sell orders of their clients; they are indifferent to the decisions of an individual trader.
Since market makers control the prices at which orders are filled, it also follows that there is very little risk for them to set FIXED spreads (you will understand why this is so much better later).
Also, clients of dealing desk brokers do not see the real interbank market rates. Don’t be scared though. The competition among brokers is so stiff that the rates offered by Dealing Desks brokers are close, if not the same, to the interbank rates.
Trading using a Dealing Desk broker basically works this way:
Let’s say you place a buy order for EUR/USD for 100,000 units with your Dealing Desk broker.
To fill you, your broker will first try to find a matching sell order from its other clients or pass your trades on to its liquidity provider, i.e. a sizable entity that readily buys or sells a financial asset.
By doing this, they minimize risk, as they earn from the spread without taking the opposite side of your trade.
However, in the event that there are no matching orders, they will have to take the opposite side of your trade.
Take note that different forex brokers have different risk management policies, so make sure to check with your own broker regarding this.
What is a No Dealing Desk Broker?
As the name suggests, No Dealing Desk (NDD) brokers do NOT pass their clients’ orders through a Dealing Desk.
This means that they do not take the other side of their clients’ trade as they simply link two parties together.
NDDs are like bridge builders: they build a structure over an otherwise impassable or hard-to-pass terrain to connect two areas.
NDDs can either charge a very small commission for trading or just put a markup by increasing the spread slightly.
No Dealing Desk brokers can either be STP or STP+ECN.
What is an STP Broker?
Some brokers claim that they are true ECN brokers, but in reality, they merely have a Straight Through Processing system.
Forex brokers that have an STP system route the orders of their clients directly to their liquidity providers who have access to the interbank market.
NDD STP brokers usually have many liquidity providers, with each provider quoting its own bid and ask price.
Let’s say your NDD STP broker has three different liquidity providers. In their system, they will see three different pairs of bid and ask quotes.
|Liquidity Provider A||1.2998||1.3001|
|Liquidity Provider B||1.2999||1.3001|
|Liquidity Provider C||1.3000||1.3002|
Their system then sorts these bid and ask quotes from best to worst. In this case, the best price in the bid side is 1.3000 (you want to sell high) and the best price on the ask side is 1.3001 (you want to buy low). The bid/ask is now 1.3000/1.3001.
Will this be the quote that you will see on your platform?
Of course not!
Your broker isn’t running a charity! Your broker didn’t go through all that trouble of sorting through those quotes for free!
To compensate them for their trouble, your broker adds a small, usually fixed, markup. If their policy is to add a 1-pip markup, the quote you will see on your platform would be 1.2999/1.3002.
You will see a 3-pip spread. The 1-pip spread turns into a 3-pip spread for you.
So when you decide to buy 100,000 units of EUR/USD at 1.3002, your order is sent through your broker and then routed to either Liquidity Provider A or B.
If your order is acknowledged, Liquidity Provider A or B will have a short position of 100,000 units of EUR/USD 1.3001, and you will have a long position of 100,000 units of EUR/USD at 1.3002. Your broker will earn 1 pip in revenue.
This changing bid/ask quote is also the reason why most STP type brokers have variable spreads. If the spreads of their liquidity providers widen, they have no choice but to widen their spreads too.
While some STP brokers do offer fixed spreads, most have VARIABLE spreads.
What is an ECN Broker?
True ECN forex brokers, on the other hand, allow the orders of their clients to interact with the orders of other participants in the ECN.
Participants could be banks, retail traders, hedge funds, and even other brokers. In essence, participants trade against each other by offering their best bid and ask prices.
ECNs also allow their clients to see the “Depth of Market.”
Depth of Market displays where the buy and sell orders of other market participants are. Because of the nature ECN, it is very difficult to slap on a fixed markup so ECN brokers usually get compensated through a small COMMISSION.
Dealing Desk vs. No Dealing Desk Forex Brokers
Which type of broker should I choose? A dealing desk broker? Or a no dealing desk broker?
That’s completely up to you! One type of broker isn’t better than the other because it will all depend on the type of trader you are. It’s up to you to decide whether you’d rather have tighter spreads but pay a commission per trade, versus wider spreads and no commissions.
Usually, day traders and scalpers prefer the tighter spreads because it is easier to take small profits as the market needs less ground to cover to get over transaction costs.
Meanwhile, wider spreads tend to be insignificant to longer term swing or position traders.
To make your decision-making easier, here’s a summary of the major differences between Market Makers, STP brokers, and STP+ECN brokers:
|No Dealing Desk (STP)||No Dealing Desk (STP+ECN)|
|Fixed Spreads||Most have variable spreads||Variable spreads or commission fees|
|Take the opposite side of your trade||Simply a bridge between client and liquidity provider||A bridge between client and liquidity provider and other participants|
|Artificial quotes||Prices come from liquidity providers||Prices come from liquidity providers and other ECN participants|
|Orders are filled by broker on a discretionary basis||Automatic execution, no re-quotes||Automatic, no re-quotes|
|Displays the Depth of Market (DOM) or liquidity information|
Brokers are not evil… Well most of them aren’t!
Contrary to what you may have read elsewhere, forex brokers really aren’t out to get you.
They want to do business with you, and not run you out of business! Think about it, if you lose all your money in trading, they too will lose customers.
The ideal client of dealing desk brokers is the one who more or less breaks even. In other words, a client who neither wins nor losses at the end.
That way, the broker earns money on the client’s transactions, but at the same time, the client stays in the game by not blowing out his account. In essence, brokers want their clients to keep coming back for more (trading)!
What is a Spread in Forex Trading?
Forex brokers quote two different prices for currency pairs: the bid and ask price.
The “bid” is the price at which you can sell the base currency.
The “ask” is the price at which you can buy the base currency.
The difference between these two prices is known as the spread.
The spread is how “no commission” brokers make their money. Instead of charging a separate fee for making a trade, the cost is built into the buy and sell price of the currency pair you want to trade.
So when a broker claims “zero commissions” or “no commission”, it’s misleading because while there is no separate commission fee, you still pay a commission. It’s just built into the spread!
How is the Spread in Forex Trading Measured?
The spread is usually measured in pips, which is the smallest unit of price movement of a currency pair.
For most currency pairs, one pip is equal to 0.0001. An example of a 4 pip spread for EUR/USD would be 1.1051/1.1053. This quote indicates a spread of 2 pips.
Currency pairs involving the Japanese yen are quoted to only 2 decimal places (unless there are fractional pips, then it’s 3 decimals). For example, USD/JPY would be 110.0/110.04. This quote indicates a spread of 4 pips.
What Types of Spreads are in Forex?
The type of spreads that you’ll see on a trading platform depends on the forex broker and how they make money.
There are two types of spreads:
- Variable (also known as “floating”)
Fixed spreads are usually offered by brokers that operate as a market maker or “dealing desk” model while variable spreads are offered by brokers operating a “non-dealing desk” model.
What are Fixed Spreads in Forex?
Fixed spreads stay the same regardless of what market conditions are at any given time. In other words, whether the market is volatile like Kanye’s moods or quiet as a mouse, the spread is not affected. It stays the same.
Fixed spreads are offered by brokers that operate as a market maker or “dealing desk” model.
Using a dealing desk, the broker buys large positions from their liquidity provider(s) and offers these positions in smaller sizes to traders. This means that broker acts as the counterparty to their clients’ trades.
By having a dealing desk, this allows the forex broker to offer fixed spreads because they are able to control the prices they display to their clients.
What are the Advantages of Trading With Fixed Spreads?
Fixed spreads have smaller capital requirements, so trading with fixed spreads offer a cheaper alternative for traders who don’t have a lot of money to start trading with.
Trading with fixed spreads also makes calculating transaction costs more predictable. Since spreads never change, you’re always sure of what you can expect to pay when you open a trade.
What are the Disadvantages of Trading With Fixed Spreads?
Requotes can occur frequently when trading with fixed spreads since pricing is coming from just one source (your broker).
And by frequently, we mean almost as frequently as Instagram posts from Kardashian sisters! There will times when the forex market is volatile and prices are rapidly changing. Since spreads are fixed, the broker won’t be able to widen the spread to adjust for current market conditions.
So if you try to enter a trade at a specific price, the broker will “block” the trade and ask you to accept a new price. You will be “re-quoted” with a new price.
The requote message will appear on your trading platform letting you know that price has moved and asks you whether or not you are willing to accept that price. It’s almost always a price that is worse than the one you ordered.
Slippage is another problem. When prices are moving fast, the broker is unable to consistently maintain a fixed spread and the price that you finally end up after entering a trade will be totally different than the intended entry price.
Slippage is similar to when you swipe right on Tinder and agree to meet up with that hot gal or guy for coffee and realize the actual person in front of you looks nothing like the photo.
What are Variable Spreads in Forex?
As the name suggests, variable spreads are always changing. With variable spreads, the difference between the bid and ask prices of currency pairs are constantly changing. Variable spreads are offered by non-dealing desk brokers. Non-dealing desk brokers get their pricing of currency pairs from multiple liquidity providers and pass on these prices to the trader without the intervention of a dealing desk.
This means they have no control of the spreads. And spreads will widen or tighten based on the supply and demand of currencies and the overall market volatility.
Typically, spreads widen during economic data releases as well as other periods when the liquidity in the market decreases (like during holidays and when the zombiepocalypse begins).
For example, you may want to buy EURUSD with a spread of 2 pips, but just when you’re about to click buy, the U.S. unemployment report is released and the spread rapidly widens to 20 pips!
Oh, and spreads may also widen when Trump randomly tweets about the U.S. dollar.
What are the Advantages of Trading With Variable Spreads?
Variable spreads eliminate experiencing requotes. This is because the variation in the spread factors in changes of price due to market conditions.
(But just because you won’t get requoted doesn’t mean you won’t experience slippage.)
Trading with variable spreads also provides more transparent pricing, especially when you consider that having access to prices from multiple liquidity providers usually means better pricing due to competition.
What are the Disadvantages of Trading With Variable Spreads?
Variable spreads aren’t ideal for scalpers. The widened spreads can quickly eat into any profits that the scalper makes.
Variable spreads are just as bad for news traders. Spread may widen so much that what looks like a profitable can turn into an unprofitable within a blink of an eye.
Fixed vs Variable Spreads: Which is Better?
The question of which is a better option between fixed and variable spreads depends on the need of the trader.
There are traders who may find fixed spreads better than using variable spread brokers. The reverse may also be true for other traders.
Generally speaking, traders with smaller accounts and who trade less frequently will benefit from fixed spread pricing.
And traders with larger accounts who trade frequently during peak market hours (when spreads are the tightest) will benefit from variable spreads.
Traders who want fast trade execution and need to avoid requotes will want to trade with variable spreads.
Spread Costs and Calculations
Now that you know what a spread is, and the two different types of spreads, you need to to know one more thing…
How the spread relates to actual transaction costs.
It’s pretty easy to calculate and all you need are two things:
- The value per pip
- The number of lots you’re trading
Let’s look at an example…
In the quote above, you can buy EURUSD at 1.36640 and sell EURUSD at 1.35626.
This means if you were to buy EURUSD and then immediately close it, it would result in a loss of 1.4 pips.
To figure out the total cost, you would multiply the cost per pip by the number of lots you’re trading.
So if you’re trading mini lots (10,000 units), the value per pip is $1, so your transaction cost would be $1.40 to open this trade.
The pip cost is exponential. This means that you will need to multiply the cost per pip by the number of lots you are trading.
If you increase your position size, your transaction cost, which is reflected in the spread, will rise as well.
For example, if the spread is 1.4 pips and you’re trading 5 mini lots, then your transaction cost is $7.00.
6 Crucial Things to Consider When Choosing a Forex Broker
The retail forex market is so competitive that just thinking about having to sift through all the available brokers can give you a major headache.
Choosing which forex broker to trade with can be a very overwhelming task especially if you don’t know what you should be looking for. In this section, we will discuss the qualities you should look for when picking a forex broker.
The first and foremost characteristic that a good broker must have is a high level of security. After all, you’re not going to hand over thousands of dollars to a person who simply claims he’s legit, right?
Fortunately, checking the credibility of a forex broker isn’t very hard. There are regulatory agencies all over the world that separate the trustworthy from the fraudulent.
Below is a list of countries with their corresponding regulatory bodies:
- United States: National Futures Association (NFA) and Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC)
- United Kingdom: Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA)
- Australia: Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC)
- Switzerland: Swiss Federal Banking Commission (SFBC)
- Germany: Bundesanstalt für Finanzdienstleistungsaufsicht (BaFIN)
- France: Autorité des Marchés Financiers (AMF)
- Canada: Investment Information Regulatory Organization of Canada (IIROC)
Before even THINKING of putting your money in a broker, make sure that the broker is a member of the regulatory bodies mentioned above.
2. Transaction Costs
No matter what kind of currency trader you are, like it or not, you will always be subject to transaction costs. Every single time you enter a trade, you will have to pay for either the spread or a commission so it is only natural to look for the most affordable and cheapest rates.
Sometimes you may need to sacrifice low transaction for a more reliable broker.
Make sure you know if you need tight spreads for your type of trading, and then review your available options. It’s all about finding the correct balance between security and low transaction costs.
3. Deposit and Withdrawal
Good FX brokers will allow you to deposit funds and withdraw your earnings hassle-free.
Brokers really have no reason to make it hard for you to withdraw your profits because the only reason they hold your funds is to facilitate trading.
Your broker only holds your money to make trading easier so there is no reason for you to have a hard time getting the profits you have earned. Your broker should make sure that the withdrawal process is speedy and smooth.
4. Trading Platform
In online forex trading, most trading activity happens through the brokers’ trading platform. This means that the trading platform of your broker must be user-friendly and stable.
When looking for a broker, always check what its trading platform has to offer.
Does it offer free news feed? How about easy-to-use technical and charting tools? Does it present you with all the information you will need to trade properly?
It is mandatory that your broker fills you at the best possible price for your orders.
Under normal market conditions (e.g. normal liquidity, no important news releases or surprise events), there really is no reason for your broker to not fill you at, or very close to, the market price you see when you click the “buy” or “sell” button.
For example, assuming you have a stable internet connection, if you click “buy” EUR/USD for 1.3000, you should get filled at that price or within micro-pips of it. The speed at which your orders get filled is very important, especially if you’re a scalper.
A few pips difference in price can make that much harder on you to win that trade.
6. Customer Service
Brokers aren’t perfect, and therefore you must pick a broker that you could easily contact when problems arise.
The competence of brokers when dealing with account or technical support issues is just as important as their performance on executing trades.
Brokers may be kind and helpful during the account opening process, but have terrible “after sales” support.
Beware of Forex Bucket Shops
Here are the bad guys we keep mentioning earlier.
Forex bucket shops are brokerage firms that have “questionable” trading practices such as unusually frequent price misquotes or reqoutes, slippage only favorable to the broker, and stop hunting.
Have you ever seen Boiler Room? Aww come on, don’t tell me you missed Ben Affleck’s legendary speech about money?!
“They say money can’t buy happiness? Look at the smile on my face. Ear to ear, baby!”
And it’s precisely this greedy, money-oriented philosophy that drives the people operating bucket shops.
The name comes from brokers back in the day who used to put their clients’ phone-in orders on slips and then dropped them (the slips, not the clients) in a tiny bucket instead of actually executing them. Without putting the orders out into the free market, the client is actually betting against the forex bucket shop operators who are also known as bucketeers.
These old school bucketeers did not usually disclose the real price of the asset that their client is trading, which means that they could tell the client that the price moved or didn’t move–whatever was in favor of the broker!
But thanks to the invention of the internet–and improving regulations and enforcement–newbies have less to worry about these days.
Unfortunately, bucket shops are still out there so beware!
Luckily for you, we at BabyPips.com are more than willing to help you avoid entrusting your hard-earned cash to these nasty bucketeers.
To help you separate the good brokers from the bad ones, make your way to the Forex Brokers Forum, where fellow forex traders kindly share their feedback and experiences about a vast collection of brokers.
So, before you deposit your money with just anyone, make sure to do your due diligence and espionage so that you avoid fraudulent brokers and forex scams. Mind you, there are plenty out there and we’ll look more into that later on!
How to Protect Yourself Against Forex Broker Scams
While you may feel like a dwarf among big bad brokers, it doesn’t mean that you have to take their abuse!
If you are disheartened because it seems that brokers have all the advantage, rest assured that there are a few simple measures to help even the odds.
Compare Price Feeds
Imagine a horse with blinders. This horse’s vision is limited to what’s in front of him.
If there is a hurdle in front, this horse has no other choice but to exert the additional effort needed to jump over it. This horse is a very sad horse. If you only use the price feed on your trading platform, you are basically trading like a horse with blinders on.
You have no idea what’s going on in the rest of the forex world because you have limited yourself to your broker’s price feed.
If your broker chooses to widen spreads, manipulate rates, and run your stops, you have no way of knowing if the move resembled the general market.
You do not want to be a sad horse. Because you are a smart trader, you want to have the most complete view of the market as possible. The best way to do this is to subscribe to a second, third, or even fourth price feed. That way, you get another view of the market, and you’d have a chance to confirm whether price really moved the way it did.
Always keep a detailed journal tracking ALL of your transactions! Always, always, always! Like in a courtroom, you need evidence to make a case. You may FEEL cheated, but if you have nothing to back it up, then that feeling will remain just a feeling.
The easiest way to keep records is to take a screenshot of each order you put, each trade you take, and other suspicious broker activity like odd price feeds.
Not only is this good trade journaling, but it will come in handy if have been victimized by an errant fill. By properly tracking the trades you take, you can assure yourself that you will always have the evidence needed to support your case in the event that you file a dispute with your broker.
File Legal Action
If you cannot settle your conflict with your broker, then it is time for you to take legal action. Most brokers give in when faced with the threat of legal action, but if they do not, you can approach either the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) or the National Futures Associations (NFA).
The CFTC has a Reparations program that provides an “inexpensive, expeditious, fair, and impartial forum to handle customer complaints and resolve disputes between futures customers and commodity futures trading professionals.”
Likewise, the NFA has an Arbitration/Mediation program that helps resolve disputes. For more information, just head on over to the NFA’s website.
Good Trading Habits
Like a disciplined nun who wears a habit, you too should develop good trading habits. We know that joke doesn’t make sense, but it sounded funny so we might as well put it here.
In any case, even with the proper weapons to protect yourself against evil brokers, the most important thing is still to become a better trader.
Know that no matter how advanced your charting software is, no matter how much time you put into finding the right broker, no matter how complicated your trading system is, without proper discipline, you will end up losing.
It is very easy to put the blame on brokers, but at the end of the day, it is really your choices that get you to where you want to go.
How to Open a Forex Trading Account
So after demo trading on at least three broker platforms, you’ve narrowed down your choice to a single forex broker?
After finding the right broker for you, you can open a forex trading account in three simple steps:
- Selecting an account type
- Activating your account
This is worth repeating so it shall be repeated. Before trading a dime of your hard-earned money, open up two or three demos.
Why not? It’s all FREE! Make sure to try out and “kick the tires” of several different brokers to get a feel for the right one for you.
Choosing an Account Type
When you’re ready to open a live account, you have to choose which type of forex trading account you want: a personal account or a business (aka corporate) account.
In the past, when opening a forex trading account, you’d also have to choose whether you wanted to open a “standard” account, a “mini” account, or a “micro” account. Now, that isn’t much of a problem since most brokers allow you to trade custom lots.
This is great for newbie and inexperienced traders who only have a small account of capital.
This provides you great flexibility, as you won’t have to trade bigger than you’re comfortable with.
Also, always, always, always remember: Always read the fine print.
Some brokers have a “managed account” option in their application forms. If you want the broker to trade your account for you, you can pick this.
But is this what you really want? After all, you didn’t read through the whole School of Pipsology just to have someone else trade for you!
Besides, opening a managed account requires a pretty big minimum deposit, normally $25,000 or higher. Also, the manager will also take a cut out of any profits.
Lastly, make sure you open a forex spot account and not a forwards or futures account.
You will have to submit paperwork in order to open an account and the forms will vary from broker to broker.
They are usually provided in PDF format and can be viewed and printed using Adobe Acrobat Reader program.
Also, make sure you know all the associated costs, like how much your banks charges for a bank wire transfer. You’d be surprised how much these actually costs, and they may actually take up a significant portion of your trading capital.
Once the broker has received all the necessary paperwork, you should receive an email with instructions on completing your account activation.
After these steps have been completed, you will receive a final email with your username, password, and instructions on how to fund your account.
So all that’s left is for you to login and start trading. Pretty easy huh?
Time to log in, pop open those charts, and start trading!
But wait just one minute!
We strongly advise you DEMO trade first. There’s no shame in demo trading – everyone has to start somewhere.
If you have been demo trading for at LEAST six months, then maybe you can dip your feet into live trading. Even then, we suggest you go in the shallow end and consider how much you want to risk.
Trading live is a different beast altogether. It’s like the difference between sparring against your kid brother (or sister) and fighting Manny Pacquiao.
If you start trading live without any demo trading experience, this is what usually happens:
But no matter how successful you were in demo trading, nothing can replace the feeling of having real money on the line.
And once you’ve started trading on a live account, never get too comfortable. Always remain vigilant and use proper risk management.