Direct Market Access (DMA): Definition, Uses, and Benefits

What Is Direct Market Access (DMA)?

Direct market access (DMA) refers to access to the electronic facilities and order books of financial market exchanges that facilitate daily securities transactions. Direct market access requires a sophisticated technology infrastructure and is often owned by sell-side firms. Rather than relying on market-making firms and broker-dealers to execute trades, some buy-side firms use direct market access to place trades themselves.

Key Takeaways

  • Direct market access describes the direct access to the electronic facilities and order books of the financial market exchanges in order to execute trades.
  • Individual investors typically do not have direct market access but usually rely on an intermediary brokerage firm for trade execution.
  • Investment banks and other sell-side firms use sophisticated electronic trading technology that allows them direct market access to the exchanges.
  • Sell-side firms may offer direct market access on a sponsored basis to buy-side entities, such as hedge funds, pension funds, and mutual funds.

Understanding Direct Market Access (DMA)

Direct market access is the direct connection to financial market exchanges that makes the completion of a financial market transaction final. Exchanges are organized marketplaces where stocks, commodities, derivatives, and other financial instruments are traded. Some of the most well-known exchanges are the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), the Nasdaq, and the London Stock Exchange (LSE).

Individual investors typically do not have direct market access to the exchanges. While trade execution is usually immediately enacted, the transaction is fulfilled by an intermediary brokerage firm. While brokerage firms can work on a market-making quote basis, it has become more common since the 1990s for brokerage platforms to use direct market access for completing the trade. With direct market access, the trade is executed at the final market transaction phase by the brokerage firm. The order is accepted by the exchange for which the security trades and the transaction is recorded on the exchange's order book.

Intermediary brokerage firms are known to have direct market access for completing trade orders. In the broad market, various entities can own and operate direct market access platforms. Broker-dealers and market-making firms have direct market access. Sell-side investment banks are also known for having direct market access. Sell-side investment banks have trading groups that execute trades with direct market access.

Direct Market Access Technology

In the financial markets, sell-side firms offer their direct market access trading platforms and technology to buy-side firms who wish to control the direct market access trading activities for their investment portfolios. Examples of buy-side entities include hedge funds, pension funds, mutual funds, life insurance companies, and private equity funds. This form of control over trading activities is considered sponsored access.

The technology and infrastructure required to develop a direct market access trading platform can be expensive to build and maintain. Companies that offer direct market access sometimes combine this service with access to advanced trading strategies such as algorithmic trading. Thus, there are agreements between direct market access platform owners and sponsored firms that outline the services offered and the stipulations of the agreement.

Benefits of Direct Market Access

With direct market access, a trader has full transparency of an exchange’s order book and all of its trade orders. Direct market access platforms can be integrated with sophisticated algorithmic trading strategies that can streamline the trading process for greater efficiency and cost savings. Direct market access allows buy-side firms to often execute trades with lower costs. Order execution is extremely fast, so traders are better able to take advantage of very short-lived trading opportunities.

Special Considerations

Market regulators such as the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) oversee all of the market’s trading activities and have raised some concerns over the sharing or sponsored access agreements offered by sell-side firms. If a buy-side firm does not have direct market access, then it must partner with a sell-side firm, brokerage, or bank with direct market access to determine a trading price and execute the final transaction.

FINRA's concern stems from the potential market disruption that could occur if poorly regulated direct market access results in trading errors caused by computers or humans. The damage from these trading errors could be compounded by high-speed trading automation and high-volume trading. To address these trading risks, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requires firms that provide direct market access to maintain a system of risk management controls over the trading actions allowed through sponsored access.

Article Sources
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  1. Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. "Market Access."

  2. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. "Responses to Frequently Asked Questions Concerning Risk Management Controls for Brokers or Dealers With Market Access."