The role of the broker has commonly been found in equities, commodities, derivatives and even insurance and real estate markets since the beginning of the modern era. And until the dawn of the internet age, most brokers operated by phone. Clients could phone in their orders of trades, and brokers would buy and sell assets on behalf of their client’s accounts for a percentage-based commission.
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Around the year 2000, retail brokers began offering online accounts to private investors, streaming prices from major banks and the Electronic Broking Services (EBS) system. The brokerages were able to provide retail service by bundling many small trades together and negotiating them in the interdealer market, which is dominated by banks. Because the trade volumes were much larger, participants in the interdealer market were willing to provide liquidity for the retail brokers’ accessible prices. Bid-ask spreads are generally higher for retail customers than they are in the interdealer market, but they have been found to narrow as trading volume rises.5)
Retail forex brokers typically allow traders to set up an account with a limited amount of assets and let them trade online through internet-based trading platforms. Most trading is done via the spot currency market, though some brokers deal in derivative products such as futures and options. Forex trading has been popularised among individual traders because brokers have offered them the chance to trade with margin accounts. These allow traders to effectively borrow capital to make a trade, and multiply the principal that they use to trade by large amounts, up to 50 times their initial capital.3)
Most retail forex brokerages act in the role of dealers, often taking the other side of a trade in order to provide liquidity for traders. Brokers make money with this activity by charging a small fee through a bid-ask spread. Before the emergence of retail forex brokerages, individual trading amounts less than US$1 million were discouraged from entering the market by high bid-ask spreads.4)