Although the foreign exchange market is decentralized and not controlled or monitored by any single authority, it is regulated on a national level and in the United States of America, one of the most important regulatory bodies is the NFA. The National Futures Association (NFA) works closely with other authorities to establish fair, secure and transparent practices in the Forex market.
When speaking of regulated Forex trading, we need to keep in mind that the United States implements some of the toughest rules and regulations in the world. With its banks, mutual funds, and financial services firms, it is nevertheless, one of the biggest players on the Forex market. The US dollar (USD) issued by the Federal Reserve is the most traded currency on the planet, accounting for 88.3% of the daily turnover, which has already exceeded $6 trillion.
As we can see, the US and its economy are extremely important for the global foreign exchange market. But how does the NFA regulation affect traders? This article will focus on the Association, its history, and responsibilities, as well as its role in the supervision of Forex brokers in the US.
The National Futures Association
The National Futures Association or NFA was established in 1981 after receiving a formal “registered futures association” designation by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) in the US. It began its operations the following year and since then, it has been working to safeguard the integrity of the derivatives markets in the country, to protect and educate investors, and to fight fraudulent activities and malpractices. It is based in Chicago but it also has an office in New York City.
Unlike the financial regulators in many countries around the globe, the NFA acts as a self-regulatory organization for the U.S. derivatives industry. It is an independent, industry-wide, non-profit organization that operates at no cost to the taxpayer. Instead, it is funded exclusively by membership and assessment fees paid by market participants. Moreover, membership is absolutely mandatory for all firms acting as counterparties to retail Forex transactions, forex pool operators, trading advisors and introducing brokers.
There are several business entities that are NFA members:
- Introducing brokers – This is an individual or organization that accepts orders to buy or sell futures contracts, Forex, commodity options, or swaps but does not accept money or other assets from customers to support these orders. All Forex and futures accounts must be carried with a futures commission merchant (FCM) or retail foreign exchange dealer (RFED).
- Futures commission merchant – This is a firm that accepts orders to buy or sell futures contracts, options on futures, retail off-exchange Forex contracts or swaps, and accepts money or other assets from customers to support such orders. Customers who trade futures through an Introducing Broker (IB) have their trades executed and cleared through an FCM. FCMs also collect margin from clients.
- Forex dealer members (FDM) or Retail foreign exchange dealer (RFED) – These are firms that act as a counterparty to an off-exchange, over-the-counter (OTC) foreign currency transaction where buying and selling of financial instruments do not involve any of the exchanges.
In addition, NFA offers membership to several other categories of organizations and businesses and these include commodity pool operators, commodity trading advisors, and swap dealers. Overall, the NFA requires almost every participant in the futures and Forex markets to register. Applicants must meet stringent requirements and pass all background checks before being granted membership status. They also need to comply with a wide set of rules regarding their integrity, financial stability, advertising and marketing policies, and many others.
Traders should understand that while Forex trading is legal and regulated in the country, contracts for difference (CFDs) are not allowed. This is why Forex brokers based in the USA typically have limited product offerings compared to European brokers, for example, who would usually give access to stock, index, and commodity CFDs.
NFA and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission
Discussing the NFA, we should also mention the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) since the two authorities work in cooperation and cannot provide effective regulation of the futures and Forex industry separately. The CFTC was founded by Congress in 1974 as a government agency with full jurisdiction over the futures trading sector in the country. The Commission enabled the creation of the NFA and several other associations in the following decade.
While the CFTC provides government oversight for the entire industry, the NFA has a specific area of authority – it regulates every firm that offers futures trading services to public customers. Of course, as we have mentioned above, the NFA is an industry association but it is not a trade association – it does not operate any markets and is not directly linked to any single market or exchange. Its work is overseen by the CFTC.
NFA’s Responsibilities and Jurisdiction
The self-regulatory organization provides various services, including education for investors and trading professionals, market surveillance, and regulatory service. NFA has introduced rigorous registration requirements for everyone who wishes to conduct futures trading with the public. Firms (or individuals) need to pass comprehensive proficiency testing requirements. They must be screened and during that process, they need to provide fingerprint cards for background checks. If brokers cannot meet the NFA standards, the authority can revoke, deny, restrict or
The compliance rules set by the NFA cover multiple areas, including risk disclosure, discretionary trading, disclosure of fees, minimum capital requirements, proficiency testing, advertising, telephone solicitations, and many others. The regulator performs regular audits and inspections of its members. To enforce compliance with the NFA and CFTC rules, it also conducts financial surveillance.
NFA also provides educational resources for investors, as well as licensing and disciplinary information for market participants, brokers, and other intermediaries. Its Background Affiliation
Status Information Center (BASIC) is an online database that can be accessed freely from its official website. Traders can use it to check whether a firm is authorized to legally offer its services in the US and whether there are any disciplinary actions taken against it.
The authority also offers arbitration and mediation services in dispute resolution regarding any area of the futures and Forex trading. It accepts complaints and arbitration claims online, as well. Probably even more importantly, the NFA has the authority to take disciplinary actions against firms or individuals who have been found to violate the rules. This includes a range of measures such as Warning Letters and official Complaints that result in serious penalties – reprimand, censure, expulsion, or suspension for a fixed period.
Moreover, the NFA may prohibit a firm from associating with NFA members in the future. It also issues fines of up to $250,000 per violation. To ensure effective prosecution, the authority also collaborates with the CFTC, the FBI, and other law enforcement agencies.
License Requirements for US Forex Brokers
To offer Forex brokerage services to traders based in the United States, firms need to be registered with the CFTC and the NFA. Typically, they are registered as retail foreign exchange dealers and introducing brokers. To receive authorization, they need to have offices in the country and comply with all requirements of the CFTC and the NFA. They need to provide transparency and the highest levels of investor protection.
According to the current rules, firms registered as futures commission merchants and acting as counterparties to a forex transaction must maintain “adjusted net capital” of at least $20 million. Forex brokers are also required to keep clients’ funds in segregated accounts. They are not allowed to use clients’ funds to carry out operational activities. In addition, they need to submit regular financial reports, while their staff is required to have passed special exams.
Brokers also have to collect and maintain a minimum security deposit for every transaction from their clients. The deposit must be 2% of the notional value of transactions in GBP, CHF, CAD, JPY, EUR, AUD, NZD, SEK, NOK, and DKK or 5% for all other currencies. The leverage offered to traders is limited to 50:1 for major currency pairs and 20:1 for minor pairs. Hedging is not allowed and the FIFO (First In First Out) rule has been introduced. Additionally, traders cannot fund their Forex account using a credit card; CFDs are banned.
NFA and CFTC Regulated Forex Brokers
Due to the tough regulation and multiple restrictions regarding the futures and Forex markets in the United States, there are only a few Forex brokers operating in the country. This should make traders’ choice much easier than expected.
Operated by Gain Capital Holdings, Inc., a company founded back in 1999, Forex.com is currently the most preferred Forex broker in the US. Its website is easy to navigate and user-friendly, while account registration takes just a few minutes. The broker offers competitive spreads and overall good pricing, coupled with fast execution of orders through several different platforms – MetaTrader 4, mobile apps for iOS and Android, their own proprietary platform, as well as additional services through APIs and NinjaTrader.
Forex.com is a registered FCM and RFED with the CFTC and an NFA member. It provides its clients with the highest levels of security, professional customer support, and great educational tools and guidance. Traders can sign up for a demo account or try live trading through a Standard, Commission, or DMA (direct market access) account. The minimum deposit for the Standard Account is $50 and the maximum leverage is 50:1.
Based in London, IG is one of the leading Forex and CFD brokers in the world. It was established in 1974 but since then, it expanded globally, including in the United States where it offers its clients more than 80 Forex markets. With spreads from only 0.8 pips, it also provides great pricing and web-based and downloadable software platforms for desktop and mobiles. In addition, clients can access ProRealTime, an online charting software for technical analysis and trading, which is integrated with the IG trading platform.
The broker has a wonderful educational section on its website where traders can learn more about Forex risk management, strategies and planning, technical analysis, fundamental analysis, Forex volatility, etc. IG is registered as an RFED and IB with the NFA and the CFTC. However, IG US accounts are not available to residents of Arizona or Ohio.
TD Ameritrade is probably known as one of the top US stock brokers, but through its electronic trading platform, it also offers trading of futures contracts, exchange-traded funds, options, cryptocurrency, mutual funds, and Forex. The company deals in fixed income investments, cash management, fixed and variable annuities, and managed portfolios, and is also a preferred provider of retirement plans and solutions.
Through its thinkorswim platform, TD Ameritrade gives access to more than 75 FX pairs. Traders can take advantage of its fast, smooth mobile app, as well as its professionally made desktop trading system. It comes with advanced tools to perform analyses and test strategies, social signals, financial news from Yahoo! Finance, educational resources, and many more. TD Ameritrade is publicly traded and registered with the NFA and CFTC.