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How Our Review Process Works

Ratings

When we review a broker, we concentrate on the 7 key areas of the operation we feel are most important to traders. We then break each of those into 20 sub-sections which reflect exactly what the broker has to offer and what sets it apart from other brokers operating in the same markets. In total, there are twenty steps for each review, which we rate separately.

Once collated, the results give scores for the seven key areas and an overall one. Using this method, we ensure that all of the brokers on our recommended page have demonstrated they are worthy of short-listing. For traders, it means you have the choice of reading each review in full or jumping straight to the subjects that will ultimately affect your decision.

Account Types

Accounts Ratings

1Account Type Variety

Of the many brokers we review, the majority offers two or three different accounts to clients. There are always variations and we have reviewed outstanding brokers who provide just one account type and others who have a whole list of them. Regardless of how many account options there are, what we are looking for is quality and a good reason for the account to be on offer.

For beginners, a straightforward account that does not require multiple configuring is favourite. Those who trade with a broker that makes everything clear, with one single calculation tend to move on with a flourish. Naturally, once established, offering a different mechanism that can save a knowledgeable client some money is excellent. Once again, a happy medium is most suited to most of our retail readers.

2Demo Account

There are many ways for all levels of traders, from beginner to 'almost professional' that can use a demo account to its best advantage. Those new to trading can learn how to trade from the ground up, middle-range traders can give an unfamiliar platform a trial run to see if it works for them and even seasoned experts like us can make use of a demo to try out new strategies.

We firmly believe that the facility of unlimited access to a demo account is one of the most valuable tools for any trader. Because of the level of importance we attach to this, we look for brokers that aim to provide it as a service to clients, rather than using a demo to attract business, then leaving recipients adrift before they are ready to embark on trading with their own money.

3No-Deposit Account

As traders ourselves, every day, we see brokers using 'no-deposit account' as a hook to attract new clients. We also see multiple variations of how brokers apply this philosophy to client interactions after that. In some cases, the broker only offers a demo account, in others, there is a bonus, which will either require a matching cash deposit or is not available for withdrawal, only for future trades.

With most no-deposit accounts, there is still a particular commitment required by potential traders and this is the aspect we look at most carefully when we compile our broker reviews. A good broker will make it's T&Cs transparent and make the best possible use of it. Done right it is a 'win-win' situation, the broker retains clients whilst enabling them to enjoy 'free' money.

4VIP Account

The sheer level of knowledge and commitment required, never mind having the right financial background, are enough to prevent many successful retail traders from going pro. In the opinion of our team, a VIP account should have features that make it as close as possible to a professional-level account, without needing to fulfil those pro requirements and making trading a primary source of income.

VIP accounts usually require a substantial amount of investment and a considerably higher level of trading activity. For traders who can comply with that, we expect to see the level of service and reciprocal benefits increased by the broker. The type of things we look for is additional software or the services of an individual account manager.

Banking And Payouts

Banking Ratings

5Simple Deposit System

In our opinion, once a trader has registered with a broker and is ready to trade 'live' then depositing funds to a trading account needs to be a speedy and straightforward process, ideally with all funding sources administered free of charge. A brokerage that complicates matters at this stage always makes us think that other aspects of its operation may confuse also.

Ideally, we look for mainstream funding methods, bank transfer, credit/debit card and a selection of e-wallets that most traders understand. As there is also far more interest in cryptocurrencies recently, this also has potential as an account funding option for traders who are inclined in that direction. Regardless of funding source, we are looking for straightforward, fast and free to rate a broker highly in this category.

6Customer Funds Security

When we review a broker, we automatically check the security of its entire website and any mobile apps. However, we pay particular attention to how protection is applied to sensitive personal data and financial transactions. We would expect to see two-step login procedures and a minimum of 128-bit SSL encryption in place. These are essentials and anything more we rate highly.

The ideal scenario is for clients' funds to be held in a segregated account and some regulatory authorities insist on this as a part of the licensing process. We also see it as a good sign that a broker has voluntarily joined a body like the Investor Compensation Fund (ICF) whose sole purpose is to protect the investment of the retail trading communities, rather than being in existence for the benefit of brokers.

7Fast Withdrawals

We know how important it is for cleared funds to be accessible to a trader, regardless of whether he intends to reinvest or withdraw them. Part of our review process is observing client opinions of brokers and the majority of trader criticisms are made concerning difficulties withdrawing funds. Often this occurs because the client's account is not correctly verified, and there can be fault on both sides here.

Fast withdrawals are a crucial decider for many traders when they select a brokerage, so we look for brokers that take the time to ensure that the T&Cs regarding withdrawal are made crystal clear. Beyond that, there is no excuse for laxity. A broker that does not pay attention to the administration required to make fast payouts may be equally lax in other areas, so this is an area we check and test very carefully.

8Quick Profit Processing

Modern technology is such that traders can immediately see what their profit equates to once the trade is completed. Platforms can also calculate the trader's total profit over a given period. The time that a broker takes to process that profit and make it available to clients is something we test during our reviews. The process, which is known as 'trade settlement' is the time it takes for legal clearing of the asset.

In terms of processing time, it is the settlement date, not the trade date, that denotes the legal transfer of an asset. There are prescribed periods for different instruments; most are T + 1 or T + 2. Some brokers will automatically clear funds for clients in advance, but there is never a good reason for a broker to exceed those timescales and we do not recommend brokers who routinely 'hold' client profits for longer than necessary.

Bonuses And Promotions

Bonus Ratings

9Variety of Bonuses

Some brokers elect not to offer direct bonus opportunities and others are not permitted to provide financial incentives as a part of their regulatory guidelines. The brokers in those categories concentrate instead on rewarding loyal and active traders. There are many takes on this, with the majority offering enhancements of some type to their clients.

Brokers who do not offer a 'welcome' bonus may potentially have more to offer for active clients. One reward system that we like is more in the form of a deposit bonus, which gives traders a percentage cashback for each deposit they make, or when they deposit a prescribed minimum amount. A straightforward 'no strings' bonus is something for which we rate brokers highly.

10Reasonable T&C's

Where a broker does offer a specific bonus or incentive, we want to see if it is a genuine opportunity for traders. We have seen many so-called 'cash' bonuses that sound great in the way the broker advertises them, but when we delve into the relative T&Cs, the pre-cursors are far from reasonable.

Occasionally we do come across a broker that literally 'gives' bonuses to existing clients in return for simply depositing the equivalent amount and we see others that are the complete opposite. Both of those are unusual, so we look for an acceptable compromise and brokers that offer a feasible way for clients to use and benefit from a bonus.

11Total Bonus Value

Defining the total value of a bonus is a surprisingly difficult task for us, as not all bonuses are related directly, or quantifiably, to cash. Some bonuses that brokers offer fall more into the realms of qualitative value, specifically those which ultimately improve a trader's opportunities to make a profit, but are incalculable in monetary terms.

There are also variations in the longevity of a bonus, with some providing instant benefit and others that are a much longer-term prospect. We have concluded that there is no 'tick sheet' approach for our reviewers under this section. We employ more literary licence and our experienced traders' instincts to rate this part.

Mobile Trading

Mobile Ratings

12Mobile Optimised Site

Defining the total value of a bonus is a surprisingly difficult task for us, as not all bonuses are related directly, or quantifiably, to cash. Some bonuses that brokers offer fall more into the realms of qualitative value, specifically those which ultimately improve a trader's opportunities to make a profit, but are incalculable in monetary terms.

There are also variations in the longevity of a bonus, with some providing instant benefit and others that are a much longer-term prospect. We have concluded that there is no 'tick sheet' approach for our reviewers under this section. We employ more literary licence and our experienced traders' instincts to rate this part.

13App Availability

We know from experience that not all trading apps are equal. With an increasing number of clients trading exclusively online, a top-class app is an absolute essential for a modern brokerage. We test out apps for security, content and speed of trade execution. In general, we find that brokers who have invested more for the development of a native app score higher for those factors.

We also like to see brokers who make their apps directly available from their website and provide specific instructions for downloading them, together with details of the minimum device requirements for each. It is very frustrating for a client to try and download only to find that his device is below par. Native apps are generally less resource-hungry and we always rate them highly.

14Desktop And Mobile Comparison

Technology is such that there is no excuse for a mobile trading platform to be any less secure or functional than a desktop version. Our comparisons cover the technological as well as aesthetic and fundamental factors or differences; they are very thorough. We also check the overall up-time of the broker's servers and anything below 99% is deemed unacceptable.

Although a lot of the work and testing we carry out on this part of our reviews is not added in detail the readable parts, we aim always to give you an honest viewpoint, gleaned as much from the personal opinions and experiences of our reviewers as from our background testing methodologies.

Trade Types

Asset Ratings

15Total Tradable Assets

We regularly see brokers who promote a bewildering array of assets and we see others that seem to offer far fewer. When we examine these in detail, it often comes down to quantity versus quality. However, there are a select number of brokers who hit the sweet spot, with an optimum number of quality assets carefully chosen for their client base.

Achieving that unique balance is not an easy feat and any broker who fits that bill gets our vote of confidence for that section. Unless a broker declares itself to specialise in one trading instrument, then we look for an even selection across different asset types which enable traders to explore new markets and diversify their portfolios.

16Benefits of Trade Types

Interestingly, this a subject that numerous brokers overlook. They are often so busy with attracting clients that they fail to give a good overview of the different trading instruments available. Anyone new to trading, or a particular trading instrument, is more likely to approach it with confidence if the pros and cons have been made clear to them from the outset.

We aim to recommend brokers that provide this knowledge to their clientele in a clear and easily absorbed format. In our opinion, it is not good enough for a client to have to search the broker's website to find this information for himself. It is not a difficult task for a broker to have a few paragraphs dedicated to this subject and any that have taken the trouble to provide it rate highly in our reviews.

Special Features

Features Ratings

17Feature Value

The real value of a feature is often a long-term benefit rather than instant gratification and those we commend come down to a matter of enhancing a client's trading experience. The types of special features we include in this section are many and varied. They may have an initial monetary value, like a bonus, or a regular monthly contest, but that is not always the case.

We seek out features that enhance a trader's overall education and experience, as well as offering ways to advance or be rewarded for loyalty and more active trading. Brokers that offer these types of incentives also tend to be the same ones that continue to invest in improvements, which is always a good sign and shows evidence of long term commitment from our perspective.

18Innovative Thinking

As we work through the creation of our reviews, we are increasingly finding unique ways that brokers are adding interest for their clients. One or two that we have reviewed go all-out to provide many features that are above and beyond the realms of those expected. Unfortunately, we also review brokers that fall below any level of foresight.

It is becoming increasingly difficult for any business to achieve and maintain a client base and brokers are no exception. It is always good when our reviewers feel inspired by a broker's unique ideas and attention to detail. A broker that goes the extra mile to make trading fun and interesting will always rate highly in our reviews.

Customer Support

Support Ratings

19Speed And Quality of Support

There is little in life more frustrating than having an urgent problem and not being able to make contact with someone who can help. We have all experienced this at one time or another, so customer support is a subject that gets our full attention. We expect brokers to support their clients with at least one form of instant contact, either a free-to-call phone number or a live chat facility, which we test.

It is not enough to get a fast response either; we seek professional and knowledgeable personnel, who can answer the majority of enquiries in a polite and friendly manner. There is no excuse for poor customer service and we would not recommend any broker that does not achieve acceptable minimums in this category. Anything below acceptable standards usually means blacklisting.

20Social Responsibility

Social responsibility is a many-faceted subject, revolving a fair bit around a broker's morals and ethics. In fact, we like to think of it as the overall level of caring for clients a broker displays through its actions. For example, a broker that is socially responsible goes out of its way to ensure that the clients it is registering are not only old enough but are suited to trading.

We are seeing more brokers asking prospective clients to complete a questionnaire detailing their trading intentions, which we see as progress. Based on those results, it is much easier for a broker to keep track of client activity and levels of investment, whilst ensuring that they are not 'throwing good money after bad' trying to recoup losses, or over-using leverage or regularly investing more than a reasonable percentage of their total investment.

What if a Site Isn't up to Scratch

Blacklisted Info

We review hundreds of brokers every year. A minimal number make it onto our recommended list, with many more achieving an average overall rating. Unfortunately, there are also a few we come across which we feel are highly unsuitable – those are the brokers who end up on our blacklist.

All traders have certain expectations of their broker and it is concerning at the very least when they are not met. There are five main areas we deem vital for retail traders and a broker that under-achieves in one or more of the list below is not worthy of your attention.

  • Unjustified loss or confiscation of funds
  • Slow profit processing and paying out
  • Unresponsive or generally poor customer service
  • Lack of site security and unreliable platforms
  • Difficulties claiming or receiving bonuses

As you can see, all of those areas relate directly, or indirectly to a trader's investment. Evidence that a broker has held funds or been unreasonably slow in paying out are the top two of our broker 'sins' and mean automatic blacklisting. The other three are factors that could impair an investor's ability to trade profitably and while they are not quite as severe, do not bode well.

Failings like poorly-performing platforms or customer support suggest that a broker is all to keen to take a client's money, but is unlikely to give traders a good experience and that the operation is lacking in investment or improvement. As experts in trading ourselves, we know that the majority of brokers try to do their best for clients, even if they are not entirely on target, but the ones we blacklist are certainly best avoided.

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