Best Direct Access Brokers

Read our Advertiser Disclosure.
Contributor, Benzinga
July 21, 2023

Want to jump straight to the best? Our readers love CenterPoint Securities as a direct access broker.

When you trade with a traditional brokerage account, you don’t actually access the stock market. Your order goes to your brokerage firm’s trading desk before it’s passed off to a market maker, who then looks for a counterparty on an exchange. That’s a lot of mouths to feed, but most investors happily pay for the convenience (along with the market research). However, sophisticated investors capable of high-speed trading don’t need the bells and whistles of traditional brokerages. They need speed. And that’s why many of them turn to direct access brokers.

Best Brokers Offering Direct Access

Using the above criteria, Benzinga has compiled a list of the best direct access brokers on the market today. Some are forex brokers, some are stock brokers, but all of these firms give you access to the order book and quickly executed trading.

1. Best Overall: CenterPoint Securities

CenterPoint Securities is a quality broker that is perfect for advanced, high-volume and momentum traders along with short sellers. With direct market access, your orders are routed in the most efficient manner possible, and you get real-time information that helps you make wise decisions.

Advanced charting, level 2 order services and built-in scanners make it that much easier to invest with CenterPoint, ensuring that your direct access trades update and upgrade your portfolio right away.

Pros

  • Level 2 order servicing makes it much easier for you to achieve your goals and work at the volume you prefer
  • There are scanners that allow you to better track all your investments, especially as they relate to your momentum trading strategy
  • The advanced charts on this platform offer finer details that others do not

Cons

  • This platform may provide a little too much functionality for those who are a newer in this space

2. Best for No Spread on Forex: FOREX.com

  • Forex.com
    Best For:
    Fast Execution and High-Volume Traders in the U.S
    securely through Forex.com's website

    CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage. 69% to 77.7% of retail investor accounts lose money when trading CFDs with this provider. You should consider whether you understand how CFDs work, and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money.

    The products and services available to you at FOREX.com will depend on your location and on which of its regulated entities holds your account

FOREX.com has three different account types for currency traders, but the DMA account is the one that provides market access to the forex market’s plumbing. DMA account holders pay no spread on their forex traders, only commission. Traders who move less than 100 million units in volume per month pay $60 per million units traded, but discounts up to 67% exists for high volume traders moving 2 billion units or more per month. FOREX.com supports MetaTrader 4 and pays interest on available daily margin balances. You’ll also get a dedicated market strategist to walk you through trades if you need support. There’s no account minimum for DMA, but trades must be at least 100,000 units in size. If you’re a currency trader in the United States, FOREX.com is one of the best forex brokers available.  

Pros

  • Choose the account you prefer so that the platform actually suits your trading strategy
  • The DMA account gives you the closest access you can possibly get
  • You also earn interest on margin balances

Cons

  • Discounts are only available to higher-volume traders

3. Best for Global Traders: Interactive Brokers

Interactive Brokers provides direct access through its Trader WorkStation platform, which connects account holders to exchanges like Nasdaq, ARCA, BATS and more. Forex trading is unavailable to United States customers, but there are plenty of other options for Americans looking for direct access. Interactive Brokers provides Application Programming Interface (API) solutions for traders who want to build their own systems. Advanced order routing and Level II market data give traders unprecedented control over their orders. The commission can be as low as $1 per 100 shares for retail traders and discounts are available for high volumes. You’ll need $2,000 minimum to open an account.  

Pros

  • APIs are available for those who wish to build systems and put their own spin on the markets
  • You can connect to the NASDAQ, ARCA, BATS, etc, making the platform feel more like you’re on the trading room floor
  • Advanced order routing will give you the speed and execution you deserve

Cons

  • The account minimum is a little higher than some investors might be willing to go for a platform that otherwise has such quality access to the markets

4. Best for Futures Trading: TradeStation

TradeStation is a Florida-based brokerage that offers not only direct access but a wave of research and analysis tools usually only found on traditional brokers. You can buy stocks, ETFs, futures, options and bonds on TradeStation, which supplies direct market access through its advanced trading tools. TradeStation doesn’t have a fancy name for its platform, but its advanced tools pack a punch.

The Matrix is a detailed look at market depth with order routing and tracking tools to guarantee you get the best trade prices. Monthly share volume of 100,000 makes you eligible for discounted commissions too, which is a much lower threshold than other direct access brokers. Otherwise, you pay $5 per trade and $50 per option contract.

Pros

  • Direct market access ensures that you get all the information you need, especially as all these tools are standard on the platform
  • High-volume traders could save money each money on their commissions
  • The platform doesn’t complicate things with random system names and tools spread all around. Everything is easy to use and navigate

Cons

  • Non-discounted commissions can add up quickly

5. Best for Scalping: TradeZero

TradeZero is a unique platform that allows you to invest on a mobile device or on your desktop. The platform offers affordable—and sometimes free—trading along with access to several markets, assets and financial instruments. You get 24/7 customer service when you use TradeZero, and you can register for a Pro account for $59 per month. 

Pros

  • Transition smoothly from desktop to mobile so that you can trade on your schedule
  • 24/7 customer service can allay many fears, especially when there are questions about the status of your account
  • The range of assets available allows you to bring your entire portfolio to this platform, if you like

Cons

  • Many traders don’t want to pay a monthly fee just to access the platform

What’s a Direct Access Broker?

A buy-and-hold investor doesn’t need detailed stock quotes and lightning fast trade execution. No, you simply buy a few ETFs or mutual funds on your Schwab brokerage account and sit back for a few decades. But day traders need quotes quickly and can’t wait around for a trading desk to funnel out their orders. Direct access is exactly what it sounds like — a live look into the plumbing of the market. If you use a direct access broker, traders can see orders executed in real-time by various liquidity providers.

For example, if you look at a Level II quote using TD Ameritrade’s thinkorswim, not only will you see share total and price, but also the market maker that executes the trade. Traders with direct access see something usually only the market makers are privy to — the order book of an exchange. As you look at a Level II quote on your computer, what you really see is the NASDAQ’s order book, a list of all the trades currently queued up from various financial firms and market makers. If you get a glimpse of the machinery of the market, it can benefit you in a number of ways.

Benefits of Direct Access Trading Platforms

Direct access is most beneficial for day traders or investors who want to trade in large volumes. When you have direct access, you have information about order sizes, firms involved in the trade and prices they’re getting. Information like this can be used by day traders to make rapid decisions. For example, if a trader interested in Tesla stock sees a big firm like Citadel scoop up a huge quantity of shares, you might be inclined to follow that trade. Here are a few of the benefits direct access can bring traders:

  • Fast execution: The simplest aspect is also the most important. Speed rules everything when it comes to day trading and direct access brokers let traders move in and out of positions in fractions of a second.
  • Get eyes on the real market: With direct access, you’ll see the order book in real-time. You can see which market players make big trades, which exchanges the trades are taking place on and how many shares or units are moved. Real-time info like this helps day traders rapidly jump into (or out of) positions.
  • Discounts for volume: Direct access brokers usually charge commission by the share, but since they aren’t getting paid for order flow, you’ll often get discounted rates for supplying liquidity.
  • Your order goes where you want it: Direct access brokers don’t send orders to trading desks. Traders can choose where their order is directed, whether it’s an exchange, electronic communications network (ECN) or market maker.

Direct access brokers don’t go heavy on research and analysis, so investors looking for economic data or education materials will likely be more comfortable at traditional brokerages.

What to Look For in a Direct Access Broker

Preferences for direct access brokers may vary depending on the securities you want to trade and the capital you have to fund an account. You can expect to pay fees and deposit a high amount to get started with a direct access broker. The best direct access broker have some of the following qualities:

  • Low commissions: You’ll certainly be paying some sort of commission on direct access trades, but not all brokers charge the same or offer the same volume discounts.
  • Accurate pricing: Any quote delays could be dangerous for a day trader’s capital. Real-time accurate price data is a must for direct access trading.
  • Quality customer service: When you use a direct access account, you don’t have the brokerage holding your hand through the trade. You spot the trends, place the order and direct it to the exchange of your choice. Find a brokerage with a good customer service reputation so you aren’t left with unanswered questions about your orders.
  • Platform support: If MetaTrader 4 is the trading software you’re most comfortable using, make sure you choose a broker that supports it!

The Final Word

Direct access is a great way for traders to gain control over order flow and get the best possible prices on trades. But the speed and sophistication of direct access are necessary only for the most dedicated day traders. Using Level II data and programming API takes an advanced and experienced trader. Buy-and-hold investors would be better served at traditional discount brokerages.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q

What is a direct access broker?

A

A direct access broker allows traders to see everyone as it is happening in real time.

Q

Who should use a direct access broker?

A

Day traders should use a direct access broker because they have to make decisons at a moment’s notice and can only do that if they can watch the market in real time.

Q

Where can I find a list of direct access brokers?

A

You can find a list of recommended direct access brokers on the list above.

About Dan Schmidt

Dan Schmidt is a finance writer passionate about helping readers understand how assets and markets work. He has over six years of writing experience, focused on stocks. His work has been published by Vanguard, Capital One, PenFed Credit Union, MarketBeat, and Fora Financial. Dan lives in Bucks County, PA with his wife and enjoys summers at Citizens Bank Park cheering on the Phillies.