Over 1.8 million professionals use CFI to learn accounting, financial analysis, modeling and more. Start with a free account to explore 20+ always-free courses and hundreds of finance templates and cheat sheets.
Trade execution is when a buy or sell order gets fulfilled. In order for a trade to be executed, an investor who trades using a brokerage account would first submit a buy or sell order, which then gets sent to a broker. On behalf of the investor, the broker would then decide which market to send the order to. Once the order is in the market and it gets fulfilled, only then can it be considered executed.
The timing and method used for the trade execution will affect the price investors will end up paying for the stock. The timing is important to note because trades are not executed instantaneously. Since trades need to go to a broker before going to the market, stock prices may be different than what the investor ordered by the time the trade is fulfilled.
Different Methods of Trade Execution
1. Market Maker
Instead of sending an order to the market, a broker may opt to send it to a market maker instead. A market maker is a firm that buys or sells a stock. In order to attract brokers to send the orders to them, a market maker may pay the broker to direct the flow of orders to them. This payment is referred to as a “payment for order flow.”
2. Over-the-Counter (OTC) Market Maker
Investors may trade stocks over-the-counter. In this case, an over-the-counter market maker may pay a broker to direct them to send the order to them.
3. Electronic Communications Network (ECN)
Investors’ buy and sell orders can be routed to an ECN, where a computer system will match up buy and sell orders together. This may happen especially in a situation where there is a limit order, which is when the investor requests a specific price to buy and sell a stock.
Sometimes, the broker’s firm may already own shares of the stock. In such a case, the trade execution is done in-house by filling the order using the firm’s inventory of stocks. The broker may be able to earn a profit from this execution if there is a difference between the bid-ask spread.
An Obligation to Conduct the Best Execution
Brokers are required to execute a transaction that is best for their client. In doing so, brokers would evaluate all the orders that they would receive from their clients and assess which market, market maker, or electronic communications network will provide the best prices for execution.
Sometimes, there is an opportunity for a trade execution to be carried out at a better price than what was quoted in the order. It is an opportunity for “price improvement,” which is an important consideration when brokers are deciding the timing and method for a trade execution.
For example, an investor enters a market order to buy 100 shares of stock. The stock’s current price is $50. A broker may send the investor’s order to a market maker that can offer a stock price better than $50. If the broker ends up sending the order to a market maker that offers a stock price of $49, then the investor buys the shares at the lower price.
Not All Trades Can Be Executed
Not all trade executions can be fulfilled. For example, a buy order may be very large and cannot be filled at the same time. It will be broken down into smaller orders so it will be easier to fulfill. In such a case, the trade will be executed at different times and at different prices.
Additionally, a limit buy order and a limit sell order may not always get executed as well. A limit buy order will not be executed if the stock price is always higher than the limit buy order price. A limit sell order will also not be executed if the stock price is always lower than the limit sell order price.
Thank you for reading CFI’s guide on Trade Execution. To keep advancing your career, the additional resources below will be useful:
Take your learning and productivity to the next level with our Premium Templates.
Upgrading to a paid membership gives you access to our extensive collection of plug-and-play Templates designed to power your performance—as well as CFI's full course catalog and accredited Certification Programs.
Already have a Self-Study or Full-Immersion membership? Log in
Access Exclusive Templates
Gain unlimited access to more than 250 productivity Templates, CFI's full course catalog and accredited Certification Programs, hundreds of resources, expert reviews and support, the chance to work with real-world finance and research tools, and more.