In January 2015, the foreign exchange (forex) broker Alpari UK applied for insolvency after the Swiss National Bank's surprise decision to abandon the peg against the euro. The event put the spotlight on forex brokers and their regulation, especially in the United Kingdom. In this article, we'll review the leading forex brokers in the United Kingdom and the basics of how they are regulated. With a daily trading volume of over $5 trillion a day, the foreign exchange market, also called forex or FX, is the world's largest market. The size and deep liquidity of the forex market, along with 24-hour trading 5 days a week, make it an appealing choice for traders.
However, unlike stocks and commodities, forex trading has no central exchange or clearing house. The lack of transparency in the FX market has left it vulnerable to numerous instances of malpractice and manipulation. In the United Kingdom, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) acts as a watchdog to ensure fair and ethical business conduct. FCA-regulated forex brokers must adhere to a number of industry standards. Of particular importance is the FCA requirement that firms keep client funds separate from company funds. These segregated deposits cannot be used as company assets if the brokerage firm becomes insolvent.
The January 2015 event involving the Swiss National Bank (SNB) underscores the importance of using a broker that is regulated by the FCA. Totally unexpected events – sometimes referred to as black swan events – can happen at any time and cause chaos. The financial markets were thrown into turmoil by the Swiss decision and a number of forex brokers suffered severe losses with some going bankrupt. Fortunately for the customers of Alpari UK, the firm was regulated by the FCA.
Top 10 Brokers
The following ten FCA-regulated forex brokers are listed in no particular order based on factors including financial stability, execution quality and trading platforms available. In choosing among them, one might consider preferences such as markets available, execution software, and the competitiveness of spreads.
- OANDA: The Canadian-based foreign exchange company offers competitive spreads, as low as 1.2 pips in EUR/USD. Along with their own fxTrade platform launched in 2001, Oanda offers MetaTrader 4.
- Interactive Brokers: Greenwich, Conn.-based Interactive Brokers offer direct access to interbank forex quotes and operate using an Electronic Communication Network (ECN) market structure.
- City Index: Established in the UK in 1983, City Index offers forex trading, along with CFD's and spread betting. The MetaTrader 4 platform is available with added tools and features.
- FOREX.com: Owned by parent company GAIN Capital (NYSE: GCAP). Operating since 2001, FOREX.com was a first mover in bringing currency markets to the retail trader.
- FXCM: Exchange-listed FXCM (NYSE: FXCM) offers a no dealing desk model along with competitive spreads. The firm offers trading in a wide variety of currencies including the Chinese yuan.
- FxPro: Founded in 2006, London-based FXPro is an online broker offering forex trading along with CFD's. MetaTrader 4 and cTrader trading platforms are available.
- IG Markets: Founded in 1974 as a spread betting business under the name IG Index. The firm offers trading in pairs including EUR/USD, AUD/USD, and USD/JPY with spreads as low as 0.8 pips.
- CMS Forex: The proprietary VT Trader platform offered by CMS Forex allows you to trade directly from the chart and provides multiple technical indicators.
- ActivTrades: Established in 2001, ActiveTrades offers forex trading in mini and micro lots, a diverse product offering, and competitive spreads.
- HY Markets: In business for 30 years, HY Markets provides multiple trading platforms and a wide variety of trading instruments. HY Markets a division of the Henyep Group, a global conglomerate with a presence in 20 countries.
The Bottom Line
Among the leading FCA-regulated forex brokers in the UK, the majority are actually based abroad. In many cases, this means that they are also regulated by other bodies such as the National Futures Association (NFA) in the United States. While the retail forex industry continues to develop and improve, traders must remain vigilant in scrutinizing where they place their funds for investment.