Electronic trading, sometimes called etrading, is a method of trading securities (such as stocks, and bonds), foreign exchange or financial derivatives electronically. Information technology is used to bring together buyers and sellers through an electronic trading platform and network to create virtual market places such as NASDAQ, NYSE Arca and Globex which are also known as electronic communication networks (ECNs). Electronic trading is rapidly replacing human trading in global securities markets.
Electronic trading is in contrast to older floor trading and phone trading and has a number of advantages, but glitches and cancelled trades do still occur.
One of the earliest examples of widespread electronic trading was on Globex, the CME Group’s electronic trading platform conceived in 1987 and launched fully in 1992. This allowed access to a variety of financial markets such as treasuries, foreign exchange and commodities. The Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) produced a rival system that was based on Oak Trading Systems’ Oak platform branded ‘E Open Outcry,’ an electronic trading platform that allowed for trading to take place alongside that took place in the CBOT pits.
Set up in 1971, NASDAQ was the world's first electronic stock market, though it originally operated as an electronic bulletin board, rather than offering straight-through processing (STP).
By 2011 investment firms on both the buy side and sell side were increasing their spending on technology for electronic trading. With the result that many floor traders and brokers were removed from the trading process. Traders also increasingly started to rely on algorithms to analyze market conditions and then execute their orders automatically.
The move to electronic trading compared to floor trading continued to increase with many of the major exchanges around the world moving from floor trading to completely electronic trading.
Trading in the financial markets can broadly be split into two groups:
Business-to-business (B2B) trading, often conducted on exchanges, where large investment banks and brokers trade directly with one another, transacting large amounts of securities, and
Business-to-consumer (B2C) trading, where retail (e.g. individuals buying and selling relatively small amounts of stocks and shares) and institutional clients (e.g. hedge funds, fund managers or insurance companies, trading far larger amounts of securities) buy and sell from brokers or "dealers", who act as middle-men between the clients and the B2B markets.
While the majority of retail trading in the United States happens over the Internet, retail trading volumes are dwarfed by institutional, inter-dealer and exchange trading. However, in developing economies, especially in Asia, retail trading constitutes a significant portion of overall trading volume.
For instruments which are not exchange-traded (e.g. US treasury bonds), the inter-dealer market substitutes for the exchange. This is where dealers trade directly with one another or through inter-dealer brokers (i.e. companies like GFI Group and BGC Partners. They acted as middle-men between dealers such as investment banks). This type of trading traditionally took place over the phone but brokers moved to offering electronic trading services instead.
Similarly, B2C trading traditionally happened over the phone and, while some still does, more brokers are allowing their clients to place orders using electronic systems. Many retail (or "discount") brokers (e.g. Charles Schwab, E-Trade) went online during the late 1990s and most retail stock-broking probably takes place over the web now.
Larger institutional clients, however, will generally place electronic orders via proprietary electronic trading platforms such as Bloomberg Terminal, Reuters 3000 Xtra, Thomson Reuters Eikon, BondsPro, Thomson TradeWeb or CanDeal (which connect institutional clients to several dealers), or using their brokers' proprietary software.
For stock trading, the process of connecting counterparties through electronic trading is supported by the Financial Information eXchange (FIX) Protocol. Used by the vast majority of exchanges and traders, the FIX Protocol is the industry standard for pre-trade messaging and trade execution. While the FIX Protocol was developed for trading stocks, it has been further developed to accommodate commodities, foreign exchange, derivatives, and fixed income trading.
Image By Luis Villa del Campo from Madrid, Spain (Times Square - NASDAQ) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons