The technology behind true ECN brokers allows for faster executions and tighter spreads with higher leverage and greater transparency. This article explains how ECN brokers work, their benefits and drawbacks and how to get started. We also list the best true ECN brokers for forex trading.
What Is An ECN Broker?
The simple definition is that Electronic Communication Network (ECN) brokers enable traders to place competing bids against each other. They are Non-Dealing Desk (NDD) brokers, meaning that instead of passing orders to market makers who take the opposing position in a trade, they connect buyers directly with sellers. When they cannot match two counter-parties, they reflect the highest bid and lowest ask price listed in the open market.
ECN forex brokers act as a major source of liquidity for retail traders versus major market makers like large banks, hedge funds and other financial institutions. They are the fastest-growing brokerages globally and are particularly popular for forex trading, offering greater transparency for investors.
ECN Brokers Vs STP Brokers
ECN brokers are very similar to Straight Through Processing (STP) providers. STP brokers also have no dealing desk. Listed trades are routed to the broker’s group of liquidity providers, such as hedge funds, big banks and investors. These providers act as counter-parties for each trade and compete for the best bid/ask spreads. The broker effectively acts as a silent facilitator, connecting the trader with its internal liquidity pool and taking its fee from a mark-up in the spread.
The primary difference with ECN vs STP brokers is routing. Whereas the STP broker provides access to different providers in their liquidity pool, the ECN plays the role of a hub. The hub essentially acts as the primary liquidity source, formed of the different hedge funds, banks and market players. The other notable difference is position size. ECN brokers typically cap minimum position sizes at 0.1 lots. This is a result of few liquidity providers being able to cater to smaller position sizes, which can prove challenging for beginners.
Both ECN and STP models offer fast executions and tight spreads which lend them to a range of strategies, including scalping trading. In fact, many ECN, STP or hybrid brokers offer zero-pip forex spreads, though they may charge a fixed commission per lot.
Benefits Of ECN Brokers:
There are several advantages to trading with an ECN broker:
- Execution speed – Pure ECN forex brokers such as Pepperstone connect you directly to liquidity providers ensuring direct market access and faster fills.
- Transparency – ECN brokers prevent price manipulation as everyone uses the same feed and trades at a defined price. No investor enjoys a built-in advantage over other traders on the ECN.
- Trading hours – ECN providers generally let you trade beyond traditional trading hours, allowing investors to react to after-market news announcements, for example.
- Leverage – Top ECN brokers typically offer leveraged forex trading. Ratios vary depending on your jurisdiction, but it’s not uncommon to find 1:100 leverage levels.
- Scalping – Rapid order executions and tight spreads lend ECN brokers to high volume scalping forex strategies. With that said, it’s worth checking the broker’s guidelines around scalping before you deposit funds.
- Regulation – ECN providers are heavily regulated. This is particularly important in light of the increasing number of online forex scams. The best ECN brokers are regulated and meet compliance measures. See our list of the best ECN brokers above for trustworthy providers.
Drawbacks Of ECN Brokers
Downsides to trading with ECN brokers include:
- Commission – Forex commissions charged by most ECN brokers usually range between $2.50 to $5.00 per lot. Fees tend to be higher compared to trading CFDs, stocks, binary options, or other non-ECN trading brokers. This may mean ECN is less favourable for low-volume retail traders or those with micro-accounts.
- Volatility – Forex markets are vulnerable to sudden upsurges in variable spreads, especially during high market volatility. It’s therefore important traders use appropriate risk management tools.
- Deposits – The best ECN brokers generally come with higher opening deposits than standard trading accounts. This is because ECN providers often shift the responsibility of meeting market liquidity requirements on the trader. This is the opposite of a market maker broker who can intervene to provide liquidity on the trader’s behalf, and therefore offer lower minimum deposits.
How To Identify The Best ECN Brokers
The top true ECN brokers are regulated by reputable financial agencies. For example, if you’re trading forex in the UK, check the provider is regulated by the FCA. For traders in Europe, check for CySEC regulation. Reliable regulators will cap leverage limits to protect a trader’s risk exposure.
Logistically, location is significant as the best ECN brokers can only accept accounts for traders in the countries they work within. For example, RoboForex cannot accept traders in the USA, Japan, Canada and Australia, despite being a top ECN broker. This means clients from the US will need to look to another broker, such as Forex.com, another top ECN brokerage. Similarly, the best ECN brokers in Kenya, Dubai, Malaysia, Cyprus or the Philippines might differ from the top providers in Nigeria, South Africa, India, Australia and Singapore.
You should also check the trading fees and commissions and whether you are allowed to start with a demo account. This will give you time to practice and get familiar with the platform, whether you are using MetaTrader 4 (MT4), MetaTrader 5 (MT5), cTrader or another. Brokers offer different platforms so it’s important to use one you feel comfortable with.
Other considerations to take into account on your broker checklist comparison should include:
- Fast deposit and withdrawal processing times
- Providers with a history of at least two years
- Brokers with no deposit bonuses
- A decent customer support team
- Forex trading rankings
- Good online reviews
Final Word On ECN Brokers
ECN brokers bring significant benefits for forex traders in the US, UK and beyond. High levels of market transparency mean price manipulation is not possible. With that said, it’s still worth looking for regulated ECN brokers. Leverage levels, commissions, plus trading tools are also important to consider when opening a live account with an ECN broker.
What Does An ECN Broker Mean?
An ECN broker is a technology hub, or bridge, that enables traders to place competing bids against each other or liquidity providers.
How Do ECN Brokers Make Money?
ECN brokers typically make money from fixed commissions charged to the customer on each trade. This is in contrast to market maker models that generally take their cut from the spread.
What Is The Difference Between A Market Maker And ECN Broker?
Market makers help ensure there’s enough liquidity so trades can be executed seamlessly. Market makers typically take the opposing side of a trade. In contrast, ECN brokers connect buyers and sellers, drawing on various liquidity providers. ECN brokers usually offer tighter spreads, faster order execution and increased transparency.
Who Are The Top ECN Brokers In The UK And Europe?
Is XM An ECN Broker Or STP?
XM is regulated by the FCA and offers both ECN and Straight Through Processing (STP) options. Which model you want to use will depend on your strategy, trading capital, position size and leverage requirements.