The ECN experience
Let’s face it. We all create our expectations based on what we know. And, the fact is, most of us did not really know what to expect out there in the “real” market. So we thought the ECN style brokers will be just like the good ol’ days only days but with tighter spreads and no lousy, cheating dealing desk. This is where we come to terms with those ever present expectations.
The first thing you find out when you open your ECN style account it that there is still slippage. But why? If there is no dealing desk to cheat us, why is there slippage? The reality is, in a true ECN environment,
slippage is a misnomer. Nobody is slipping you. Your ECN style broker is merely providing you what you asked for. You ask for a market order to go long on the euro and that’s what you got. The problem is many of us had no clue what a real market place is about. We thought we could buy the euro at the price on the screen like a tomato with a price tag. Why do we think this? Because, BigretailFX and his competitors trained us to think this way. Retail brokers have spoon fed retail traders simplicity. Some wanted to make it as easy as possible for traders. Others used this trader ignorance of the real market and market prices to steal some additional profits. In a sense, they set themselves up for all of the dissatisfaction and suspicion to come.
You see in real interbank networks, a market order is just that, a request for a euro at the market price. And the market price is not static. It is moving all of the time. Sometimes it is moving very fast. In those conditions, you may request a euro at 1.2750 but in the time it takes for you to push the button, route the order and match a buyer the price could be 1.2752 or in a really volatile market as during economic releases, the next seller might not be available until 1.2780. How many stupid people do you think are out there that want to sell a euro after the Federal Reserve just released a U. S. dollar negative statement? This is the reality of the real market. Sometimes there just isn’t a buyer at the price you want. Because we have been lied to, and some of us flat out cheated in the past, we immediately go into combat mode. “I can’t believe it! These guys are just as bad as the lousy market making broker I just got rid of!”. Well, no, probably not. They are just giving us what we asked for. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t really know what we were asking for.
After a few days with your new ECN style platform you observe your first economic report. And the good news is that you don’t get the ridiculous 20,30 or even 50 pip fixed spread that popped up prior to the data on your BigretailFX platform. But the spreads do widen a few pips and the spread starts dancing like crazy, especially on the pound. The spreads widen, narrow and even invert in a frenzy. And for a few seconds before the release it just looks scary. Banks are pulling order and last minute speculators are taking positions. It looks dangerous because it is. Welcome to the cold cruel world of the real interbank networks. There are no guaranteed stop losses here. Just buyers and sellers and whatever the market will bear.
Commissions are the next consideration. Unlike BigretailFX, the brokers profit is not hidden in the difference between your price and the brokers liquidity providers price. The Bid and Ask you see on the screen is representative of the prices offered in your ECN’s network. So in order for your ECN style broker to profit, they charge you a transaction fee or commission. While the commissions can vary, most retail ECN style brokers commissions average the equivalent of 1 to 2 pips per round turn depending on the currency pair. Just a little math will tell you that in order for your ECN style brokers spreads to be better that your old retail market maker, your ECN style broker must be showing a spread of 1or 2 pips or less. And this may or may not be the case when it is time for you to take a position. So are ECN style broker net spreads really better than your old market maker broker? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.
So why all the praise for the ECNs?
In a word, transparency. Or at least the promise of transparency. While some are initially attracted by the spreads, the big draw for ECNs is to see the real market. If we can see the real market, then no one can lie to us or cheat us. And for many, we just want a fair shake. But the thing that must be said here is that, we may have revealed, your old broker may not have been so bad after all. More specifically, your old broker may not have been out to cheat you. BigretailFX is just built on a business model put them in a position that inspires distrust. Throw in the fact that there have been notable amounts of skullduggery by retail brokers over the years and you have a Forex market begging for transparency. Are ECNs style brokers truly transparent? Not really. Unless you have central clearing where everyone, including the retail trader, has access to the feeds then it is not truly transparent. But they are a good step in the right direction.
Run straight to your nearest ECN? Not so fast.
As we discovered, your old market maker broker may not be obsolete just yet. In fact, many of them have features that are an advantage or just down right prudent for new or small account traders. Some market maker brokers guarantee no negative balances. Which means you can never lose more money than you have in your account. This is a huge plus and a very smart safety feature. Also, you won’t find any ECN style brokers that guarantee stop losses. These features alone can make them the only choice for many. Many market maker brokers also have leverage up to 400 to 1. This may be attractive to some and makes those stop loss and no negative balance guarantees all the more important. Let’s face it, if you need 400 to 1 you had better have no negative balance protection! Last but not least is the advantage of fixed spreads. If you trade at odd times like early in the Asian market timeslot, fixed spreads can be better than the interbank, especially on the pound.
So, is the grass greener with ECN style brokers?
The answer is up to you. We now have a much better idea of each broker’s structure and advantages. In general, I will state that experienced, active Forex traders will probably be happier with and ECN style broker. While a new trader, in need of simplicity and financial safety will likely be better off with a quality market making broker that has these safety features. After all I have learned, for now, I will have one of each.