Fast Order Execution CFD Trading

Understanding Order Processing Speed in CFD Trading
Article Summary And Broker Table
TL;DR Summary: Navigating the Complexities of Faster Order Processing in Trading

Order processing speed is a factor in trading which can be seen as becoming more important the shorter the trading time frame. This said, even those who are executing a position strategy may prefer to have an order go through rapidly.

Some brokers make a point about providing a figure for execution speed and these indeed tend to be brokers offering platforms and infrastructure to accommodate automated traders, scalpers and high frequency traders. However increasingly, even brokers which tend to provide for those who trade on longer time frames, may make a point of highlighting that they have rapid order execution, even if it is not on the order of those brokers with very short execution speeds.

There are specific factors which contribute to order execution speeds. The first is based on physics and engineering, namely the speed at which data can be transmitted. One way to maximise physical speed is to shorten the distance data has to travel. Another way is to use material which can rapidly transmit data, for example optical cables. A bottleneck is the time taken to send orders from the trader's terminal and back and this can be bypassed via a VPS.

These issues and more will be explored in an article on this page which has two accompanying infographics and a comparison graphic. Additionally there is a range of brokers provided which can be seen as having features and offerings for those who may place importance on order processing speed in their trading.

Online ProviderAboutMinimum DepositTrading Platforms
Co-locationThinkMarkets utilises Equinix data centers for rapid order processing and can offer its ThinkZero account, with spreads from 0 pips plus commission (with a $500 minimum deposit)
Minimum Deposit
MT4, MT5, ThinkTrader
CFD Trading Platforms
ECN Technolgy with Swiss BankingDukascopy Bank utilises technology to appeal to automated traders and scalpers, with rapid order execution via their SWFX ECN and a relatively wide offering of markets
Minimum Deposit
MT4, MT5, JForex
CFD Trading Platforms
After HoursOn both MT5 and cTrader (as well as Deriv X and Deriv EZ), Deriv can offer liquidity for markets traded round the clock
Minimum Deposit
MT5, cTrader, Deriv X, Deriv EZ
CFD Trading Platforms
ECN & Cent AccountsRoboForex offers a range of account types including ECN and a Cent account (the account account has a low minimum order size), with a low minimum deposit
Minimum Deposit
MT4, JForex
CFD Trading Platforms
Low LatencyIC Markets offers rapid order processing and allows automated trading, news trading and scalping. IC Markets can provide low spreads for the more liquid Forex pairs, as well as low average spreads
Minimum Deposit
MT4, MT5, cTrader, TradingView
CFD Trading Platforms
Spreads from ZeroFXTM offers its Advantage account for those who are looking for rapid order execution, along with low spreads, plus a volume dependent commission charge
Minimum Deposit
MT4, MT5
CFD Trading Platforms
Deep LiquidityPepperstone can provide rapid order processing and for those who want faster processing, VPS services with a quoted latency of 1 milliseconds
Minimum Deposit
MT4, MT5, cTrader, TradingView
CFD Trading Platforms

When placing a trade from their online trading platform, the trader may notice the time lag taken for an order to be processed (or be impressed by the lack of lag). This is the time taken for the order to be sent from the terminal to the broker and back. As might be expected there are a number of steps along the way, and optimising these steps can result in faster order processing. It is also possible to cut out some steps, such as by using a VPS.

The CFD order processing process

When a trader placed a buy or sell order on their trading terminal, the order is sent to the broker who processes it and then sends a confirmation back. This can take from milliseconds to seconds. A CFD is a Contract for Difference, which is to say it is a contract entered into by the trader with the CFD provider (broker) to exchange the difference between the value of the contract between the beginning and end of the trade. The value of the CFD (which is a derivative instrument) is tied to the value of the underlying asset being traded. There are various mechanisms to keep the CFD value and the asset value aligned.

When buying or selling a CFD, the trader does now own any of the underlying asset. What this means is that the trader when placing an order to buy an asset for example, the order processing does not involve the trader buying the underlying asset. However the CFD provider can choose to hedge this order by creating an opposite sell order in the external asset market. This might be for the asset itself or a derivative (e.g. futures or ETF) based on the asset.

The broker may choose to match the trader's CFD with another CFD at the broker (as there are not external pools of CFD orders), which is to say match a buy with a sell and vice versa. This is done with an automated process, so it can happen fast. There are also checks taken on orders such as margin requirements, but again this is normally a rapid automated process.

Trading servers

The trading servers take care of the order processing process. Some brokers explicitly cater to those who want to run higher frequency trading strategies. Examples of these are scalping and high frequency trading itself. As trading frequency gets higher it becomes harder for the human trader to execute these strategies themselves. So traders may turn to automation, i.e. online trading robots.

While strategies employed by automated systems will not necessarily be shorter frequency, they have a tendency to be used this way, which is why automated trading brokers tend to seek rapid order transmission. Trading servers can be hosted in different ways, including in house and on the cloud. However for rapid order transmission some brokers will host their servers at data centers dedicated to finance, such as the Equinix NY data center. This itself is a speed optimisation, as these centers operate at scale and can use very efficient methods and technologies to route orders.

Simple proximity becomes a factor in order processing speed, that is proximity between the broker's servers and liquidity providers and institutions. Optical cabling is typically used for optimal processing speeds within the center, as well as efficient routing algorithms and technology. So this is why at those brokers which cater to higher frequency trading, traders may find descriptions about the use of data centers and how this can optimise order processing.

Different steps in CFD order processing from placing the order to the end of the trade

Data transmission

In data centers optical cabling is used due to its superior speed of data transmission. Some data centers may leverage microwave transmission as this can be faster, particularly at critical communication points. There is also the potential for faster and more secure methods, including more advanced optical cabling to reduce latency, laser networks and faster transmission methods than microwave.

The universe has a built in speed limit for the transmission of signals (the speed of light in a vacuum) so the aim is improvements in materials, algorithms and technology to reduce latency up to this speed limit as well as reducing errors in transmission.

While the built in limit on signal transmission makes it unlikely that advanced methods such as quantum networks which aim to leverage the phenomenon of entanglement would result in speed improvements beyond this limit, there may potentially be applications in enhancing network security (which is also a factor in order transmission) as well as improving the computational efficiency underlying this technology.

VPS - Virtual Private Servers

While using a broker with rapid order transmission can result in speed on the order of tens of milliseconds, to reduce this even further, the trader may wish to consider a VPS (a Virtual Private Server). A VPS is a type of software which allows for separate programs to be run on shared hardware resources. So instead of having one server for one user, multiple users can run their own programs on one server, which is to say they utilise economies of scale.

In the use case of trading, traders can rent a VPS and have their trading algorithms execute on a server. Thus the bottleneck of sending an order from the trader's terminal to a broker and back again can be ameliorated (as if the trader were executing orders in the data center, assuming this is the model used by the broker). So with a VPS, potentially greater speeds can be achieved (the actual speed depends on a range of factors). The cost of renting a VPS varies, but sometimes brokers will offers a free VPS for higher volume traders (T&Cs apply).

Dedicated servers

As we have seen, a VPS uses shared resources on a hardware server. However some traders may want the additional security and potential improvements in latency from using a server which does not share resources with other traders' programs. Dedicated servers are normally significantly more expensive to rent than a VPS, however if the trader is interested they can find such an offering at some VPS providers. Generally traders who apply advanced and resource intensive trading strategies such as high frequency trading may find a need for this type of individualised co-location.

Bottlenecks in speed of CFD order execution and some ways to relieve them

Algorithms in routing and AI

As well as hardware, algorithms (specific computer programs) are utilised in rapid order transmission for example in routing, order processing and risk management. There is also the potential to use machine learning, AI and game theory to predict order related outcomes in the market, therefore moving away from a reactive model.

Generative AI, the technology used for smart chat bots, is based on machine learning. Underlying this technology is a range of algorithms, including neural nets. Neural nets can be trained via machine learning on large data sets. These computer programs have the capacity to then make predictions based on their training data. The data is key in this type of AI and using AI to predict in a use case such as order routing would require that the data has to be updated regularly as well as feedback and error correction in addition to supervision by data scientists and those who are expert in the domain knowledge. Game theory is a well developed framework used to also predict outcomes, so it has potential applications in routing.

Bear in mind, the reason for using these kinds of predictive technologies is to attack the speed bottleneck. The core users want speed (as well as accuracy) but there are limitations on the technology, even with co-location and advanced cabling. So to predict rather than react is a way around this bottleneck, but it has its own demands in terms of accuracy and adaptability.

ECN vs market makers and order processing speed

Some brokers classify themselves as ECN brokers. This is contrasted with market marker brokers. Market makers can set bid/ask prices and act as the counterparty to the trade. ECN brokers will go out into the wider ecosystem on the ECN (which connects brokers and other market participants) to find prices, though they may also match orders internally. Some brokers might offer different accounts, some of which might be ECN and others market maker.

The potential advantage of ECN brokers is that there may be improvement in prices available (from a wide range of liquidity providers) and indeed some of the lowest spreads (and low average spreads) can be seen at such brokers. However there is a trade off as this has a greater lag (latency), in principle, than matching internally. Thus such brokers may (but not necessarily will) utilise technology such as co-location in data centers to improve latency in the order process.

What this means is that higher frequency traders are not simply looking for speed improvements, they are more particularly looking for price improvements. As trading frequency goes up, then the cost of the trade can go up as the spread cost is added more frequently.

It should be noted that while ECN brokers may offer very low spreads for liquid markets, there is normally an additional commission charge added to the cost of the trade. But this charge is normally fixed, although it may be volume dependant. So the trader can calculate this as a fixed cost to be added to a normally variable spread, but a spread which may be relatively low compared with other types of brokers. This said, spreads without a commission charge whether at a market maker on an ECN broker have been trending down over the years (for some markets).

Brief summary

Traders who want fast order execution may be those who trade on higher frequencies, either on their own behalf or using robots. But these traders also want (or may primarily want) the lowest cost for their trades, particularly trades of larger size. So there is a trade off, as brokers which have deep liquidity may use processes which are not as fast as matching or filling orders internally. So those brokers which aim to offer fast order processing and low spreads, may turn to technology to increase the speed at which orders are processed. Currently there are various ways to optimise speed of order routing and processing, and there are also various other technologies being explored.

Trade on a demo account

A trader may already know that speed of order execution matters to them. But even if they do and particularly if they do not, testing out brokers and trading platforms is a way to get to grips with this advanced factor in trading, without risking real money.

Comparing different CFD brokers using factors related to order processing speed

Co-Location ThinkMarkets

  • Minimum deposit: None
  • Online trading platform: MT4, MT5, ThinkTrader

ThinkMarkets offers two main account types, the Standard and ThinkZero accounts. The Standard account does not have a minimum deposit, but the ThinkZero account has a minimum deposit of $500. The ThinkZero account is for traders who scalp or use robots and want to access low spreads plus a fixed commission charge. The Standard account does not charge a commission and offers spreads from 0.4 pips vs the ThinkZero account which charges commissions of USD 3.5 per lot per side and has spreads from 0 pips with a low average spread from 0.1 pips. ThinkMarkets locates its trading servers at Equinix data centers, both New York and London.

ThinkMarkets, while it is used by automated traders and higher frequency traders can also offer 4000+ markets, on MT5, the bulk of which are Stocks CFDs. Traders who trade on time frames which are not short term, may wish to consider the Standard account and the user friendly ThinkTrader platform, offered in addition to MT4 and MT5, but only on the Standard account. Both account types can offer rapid order processing and VPS service: T&Cs apply (for MT4 and MT5). The trader may sign up for a demo account on the following links, to test out the platforms and features of ThinkMarkets.

SWFX ECN Dukascopy Bank

  • Minimum deposit: $1000
  • Online trading platform: MT4, MT5, JForex

Dukascopy Bank focuses of technology and services for those who execute higher frequency and automated trading strategies. It provides its JForex platform, which has a wide range of tools, including the capacity to create robots. It also offers MT4 and MT5, platforms with a wide range of tools including automated trading with Expert Advisors. JForex, MT4 and MT5 provide access to the SWFX ECN. This is a trading venue which offers competing prices from exterior liquidity sources and to which Dukascopy Bank is the counterparty (as with ECN brokers in general, orders may be matched internally).

Dukascopy Bank does not have a dealing desk, so all order execution is STP (Straight-Through-Processing). This is a broker which does not restrict trading styles, which means in effect that styles such as scalping, which may not be possible at a market maker broker, are allowed. Dukascopy Bank offers a wide range of markets, from Forex to Bonds CFDs, and also provides Stocks CFDs.

ECN & Cent RoboForex

  • Minimum deposit: $10
  • Online trading platform: MT4, MT5, R StocksTrader

RoboForex offers a low minimum deposit for its ECN and ProCent accounts (and all others, except R StocksTrader) of $10. The ECN account is for traders seeking fast order execution. The ProCent account is a Cent account, with low minimum trade sizes and may be used to test out strategies and EA robots on a live account. So the trader may potentially scale their trading from demo to live with small trade sies and then to higher volume trading.

After Hours Deriv

  • Minimum deposit: $5
  • Online trading platforms: MT5, cTrader, Deriv X, Deriv EZ

Deriv offers CFDs based on real markets however it also provides a wide range of synthetic markets. These are CFDs not based on real markets, but rather algorithms and aim to simulate different markets conditions, including volatility levels, trends and news trading events. As these markets are algorithmic, they can be traded 24/7. Deriv offers these markets on a wide range of platforms: MT5, cTrader, its user friendly Deriv X platform and the Deriv EZ mobile platform. CFDs based on real markets are available as well, from Forex to Stocks CFDs.

Deriv accomodates larger volume traders as well as those looking to trade smaller volumes. Deriv can provide an STP account for those who want to trade more directly into the market, and access tight spreads.

Advantage Account FXTM

  • Minimum deposit: $500
  • Online trading platforms: MT4, MT5

FXTM offers its Advantage account, which may be used by higher volume traders seeking low spreads, fast order execution and a commission charge. The commission charge is volume dependent. There is also an Advantage Plus account with no commission charges.

Low Latency & Liquidity Pepperstone

  • Minimum deposit: $200
  • Online trading platforms: MT4, MT5, cTrader, TradingView

Pepperstone can offer spreads from 0, plus a commission charge. Pepperstone provides MT4, MT5, cTrader and TradingView, all of which support automated trading. Pepperstone says that its latency is ~30 milliseconds, however via VPS this can be reduced down to ~1 millisecond (for reasons discussed in the preceding article).

Low Latency IC Markets

  • Minimum deposit: $200
  • Online trading platforms: MT4, MT5, cTrader, TradingView

IC Markets can offer rapid order processing, with speeds around 40 milliseconds (which can be reduced further via a VPS). IC Markets has a relatively wide range of markets to trade, with 2,500+ on MT5. IC Markets allows a wide range of trading styles and can be seen as providing a platform for scalpers, automated traders and high frequency trading, with a focus on low latency rapid order transmission with access to multiple liquidity providers.