In addition to forex trading’s nebulous regulatory standards and high leverage trades, you’ve got an unprecedented number of forex brokers to choose from. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes hard to tell if your broker has your best interests at heart.
If peace of mind is important to you (and who would say it isn’t?) you might be interested in learning about ECN brokers. ECN stands for electronic communications network and it helps bring transparency to the currency markets.
What’s an ECN Broker?
Currencies aren’t traded in centralized locations the way stocks are on exchanges. Currency trades happen all over the world, but most take place on something called the interbank market. The interbank market is where the world’s largest global banks exchange currencies to provide liquidity to the forex market. Retail traders don’t have access to this market, so they trade through either an ECN or a market maker.
ECNs are complex computer systems that connect buyers and sellers from every corner of the forex market. Since ECNs have access to traders on both on the interbank market and retail brokerages, counterparties to trades can be found without the help of a market maker. Buyers and sellers can easily be matched, which results in quicker trades and more accurate spreads.
ECN brokers usually charge commission and have high minimum account balances. But unlike market maker brokers, ECNs do a good job of executing your trade at the price you want and there’s no perverse incentive to trade against the customer. Since the market maker is the counterparty to a retail customer’s trade, conflicts of interest exist and that presents a risk in the largely unregulated forex market. The ECN broker works as a middleman, not a counterparty.
What to Look for in an ECN Broker
ECN brokers tout themselves as fast, trustworthy and anonymous. The SEC considers ECN brokers to be alternative trading systems because they match orders through third parties instead of directly on an exchange or with a market maker. But don’t let this label deter you. If you have the capital to open an ECN account, there’s a number of good reasons to do so.
Here are a few important things to consider when choosing a forex broker:
1. Peace of mind
Because the forex market can be a wildly unregulated playing field, you want to choose a broker that can promise security and anonymity. Make sure your forex brokerage has a relationship with one of the primary forex regulatory groups like the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), National Futures Association (NFA) or the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC).
2. Access to forex trading apps
If you want to use MetaTrader 4 to trade currencies, make sure the brokerage you choose supports the platform! You’ll find a list of supported platforms and app on each individual broker’s website.
3. Smooth trading experience
Sometimes a huge news story or sudden flush of trading activity can cause slippage. During periods like this, trades can be executed at prices beyond the customer’s request or dropped entirely. The best ECN brokers provide uninterrupted trading at the best possible prices.
Popular ECN Brokers
Surprisingly, United States customers aren’t shut out from ECN brokers! You might not be able to use MetaTrader, but U.S. traders can still enjoy the benefits of ECN trading. Each of the following brokers uses an actual ECN to match buyers and sellers and doesn’t deal against its own customers.
Spreads start as low as 1 But vary based on trading volume
- Traders of all skill levels
- If you need a great mobile experience
- Those who like easy-to-consume data and research
FOREX.com is Benzinga’s top choice for the best forex broker, and is continually favored by brokerages and individual investors alike. A subsidiary of GAIN Capital, they have almost $1.5 billion in assets and $350 million available liquidity. FOREX.com is also known for executing 99.65% of their trades in under one second.
FOREX.com has extensive tools for beginners and advanced traders alike, offering live streams of market data, commentary, analyst research, screeners, and more. They also have an email newsletter that covers how the market is doing, along with entry and exit points.
Dedicated to helping you develop your forex trading skills, they offer courses for investors of all skill levels to continue learning.
You are able to trade FOREX.com’s 84 different currency pairs on their Advanced Trading Platform for your desktop, MetaTrader, and through their web trading. These platforms are also easy-to-use and customizable.
$0.005 per share minimum $1 and maximum 0.5% of trade value; volume discount available
- Forex traders
- Professional traders
- Frequent traders with a thirst for different order types (63!)
Interactive Brokers accepts United States clients for its forex trading platform, which provides direct access to interbank market pricing. You’ll be able to trade 23 different currencies with commissions as low as 0.08 pips, but unfortunately, there’s no support for the MetaTrader platform.
Account minimums at Interactive Brokers are a bit high, though. You’ll need a $10,000 deposit in order to open an account, which may deter some smaller retail traders. But U.S. customers don’t have many forex brokerage options and Interactive Brokers is one of the best.
Additionally, its education library is loaded with different strategies and techniques for trading. If you’re just getting started learning how to trade forex, you’ll find a wealth of knowledge to get you started.
Dukascopy is a Swiss banking firm that offers a variety of forex and CFD products. Regulated by European Securities and Markets Authority, Dukascopy is a true ECN broker that doesn’t deal against its clients. Dukascopy supports MetaTrader 4 for forex trading and also has its own proprietary trading platform. The firm claims to give equal trading rights to all clients, which means that large banks and small retail customers “have equal opportunity to provide and consume liquidity.” All clients get the same price data through a single feed to ensure transparency and fairness.
In addition to low spread forex trading, Dukascopy has CFDs on stocks, indices, commodities and cryptocurrencies. Commissions are high for small accounts, so be sure this firm fits your budget before you open an account. Try a demo account beforehand, too.
“The world’s largest true ECN forex broker” is the tagline for IC Markets, an Australian firm formed in 2007. IC Markets connects not only to tier-1 banking institutions, but also large market makers and dark pools. Thanks to this wealth of information (and liquidity), IC Markets can accurately match buyers and sellers in real-time while making spreads almost nonexistent. There’s no requoting, no manipulation and traders are free to make whatever moves they see fit.
IC Markets supports both MetaTrader 4 and 5, with download options for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android. Since American customers aren’t allowed to open accounts, leverage can increase to 500:1 for some currency pairs. IC Markets offers 65 currency pairs in all, plus CFDs on stock indices, commodities, futures, bonds and cryptocurrencies.
Here’s an American company regulated by the National Futures Association (NFA) that doesn’t act as a counterparty to client trades. That’s right, a true ECN in the United States! You’ll need to use MetaTrader 4, but most forex traders likely won’t find that to be a problem. ATC Markets also supports MetaTrader 4 for Mac, so all users can enjoy the platform regardless of operating system.
There are about 40 currency pairs to choose from with spreads that average between 0.3 and 0.5. Only 2% margin is required on major pairs, which is the maximum leverage allowed by U.S. law.
You’ll need a hefty $3,000 to open an account with ATC Markets, which isn’t uncommon among true ECNs. Commissions are $10 for a standard 100,000 lot contract or $1 for a 1,000 lot mini-contract. ATC Markets is probably the top option for U.S. clients if you can pony up the $3,000, but there are more options for traders in the U.S.
XTB is a Polish forex brokerage that offers currency trading along with CFDs on stocks, commodities, and cryptocurrencies. The firm has over 14 years of experience and has established offices all over Europe. You have two great weapons at your disposal — xStation5 and MetaTrader 4.
MetaTrader 4 and xStation5 give you automated control over your trading strategies, but also the ability to trade a variety of instruments at lightning speed. Leverage goes as high as 200:1 for retail clients, who trade 48 currency pairs with spreads as low as 0.35 pips. Regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, XTB is a great broker for MetaTrader 4 enthusiasts to trade currencies quickly and efficiently.
Launched in 1998, this Danish bank aims to bring high-tech trading tools to retail investors so they don’t lag behind institutional heavyweights. Transparency and fairness are important to Saxo Bank; that’s why it has agreements with regulators in 15 different jurisdictions and clients from 120 different countries. Saxo Bank has strict order handling policies and gets liquidity from providers like JP Morgan, CitiBank, Royal Bank of Scotland and Nomura International.
Saxo Bank gives access to an impressive 182 forex spot pairs, with thousands of additional CFD products and 40 forex option instruments. Saxo also employs personal relationship managers, real-life human advisors to discuss trading and account information. Customer service is a strong selling point for Saxo Bank and its forex options might be the most plentiful in the industry.
Pepperstone is an Australian-based forex broker with low spreads and low minimums. You’ll only need $200 to get an account open and spreads average between 1 to 3 pips for major currency pairs. Pepperstone isn’t open to U.S. traders but can provide leverage up to 500:1. MetaTrader is the platform of choice here and the straight-through processing (STP) system guarantees accurate pricing and fast execution. Both MetaTrader 4 and 5 are available if account holders want access to multiple markets.
Over 70 currency pairs can be traded, along with CFDs on indices, commodities, and cryptocurrencies. Pepperstone provides liquidity through 22 different major banks across the globe and customers don’t need to fear the firm trading against them. A great choice for new forex traders learning how to navigate the market.
Vantage FX is a rare find — a true ECN with low account minimums and commissions, but it’s another place U.S. clients can’t go. Still, Vantage FX has over 120 forex and CFD products, all traded in a healthy regulatory environment thanks to a relationship with the ASIC. MetaTrader 4 and 5 are both supported, and Mac users will be happy to find a download option for themselves too.
Commissions are $3 USD for every lot, which is 100,000 units of the customer’s base currency. Vantage FX accepts eight different currencies and has 40 different forex pairs to trade. CFDs based on indices, commodities and cryptocurrencies can also be traded. Vantage FX has a solid library for research materials for beginners and you only need $200 to open a basic account (the pro account requires $500).
Often, reviews from current or past customers can help you determine the best forex brokerage for you. You’ll need to find one that fits both your trading budget and style and doesn’t claim to be something it’s not. Sometimes brokers claim to be ECNs even if they’re actually a market maker, so check out a review or two before you sign up.