What Is a Broker-Dealer?

What Is a Broker-Dealer?

4 Min.

Navigating the financial realm can be perplexing, with its unique lexicon including "alpha," "beta," and "Sharpe ratio." Industry jargon can obscure understanding. Amid this complexity, investors enlist brokers or dealers to decipher. Delve into the nuances of brokers and dealers for insight.


Brokers act for clients, either full-service or discount. Dealers trade for themselves, and primary dealers assist the U.S. Federal Reserve in policy implementation. Some entities, like Wall Street firms and major banks, function as broker-dealers, juggling both roles.


The terms "broker" and "dealer" are regulatory concepts in the U.S., often confusing. Despite being used together, they represent distinct entities. A broker executes orders for clients, linked to investors' brokerage accounts. In practice, it denotes the person aiding securities trading. The industry has varied terms like "financial advisor," "investment advisor," and "registered representative." Sticking to legal definitions clarifies the baseline.

Consider the legal entity as an agent acting for investors in security trading. When trading securities, the entity facilitating the transaction, such as an online brokerage, acts as your agent. Commission payments for trades are made to the agent. The terms "agent" and "broker" are often interchangeable.

Full-Service vs. Discount Brokers

Brokers are categorized into two main types: full service and discount. Full-service brokers offer personalized advice and planning, covering areas from retirement to estate planning and investment strategies for various goals.

They provide ongoing support through meetings and checkups. For new or busy investors, these brokers are valuable. Discount brokers focus on trade execution, often online. Investors can purchase securities independently. They are cost-effective for those who have clear investment choices.

Some offer online tools and research for DIY investors. While less pricey than full-service brokers, it's crucial to address any misunderstandings about discount brokers before choosing.


Distinguishing between brokers and dealers is crucial. While brokers manage security trades for investors, dealers conduct trades for themselves. "Principal" and "dealer" are interchangeable terms, and big financial firms trading in-house are acting as dealers.

Certain dealers, referred to as primary dealers, collaborate with the U.S. Federal Reserve to implement monetary policy. They engage in U.S. government debt auctions, ensuring liquid markets by bidding on securities. This facilitates domestic and international transactions and maintains market functionality.

Dealers are also self-regulated under the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), which administers exams like Series 7, 6, and 63. Series 7 focuses on investment risk, tax implications, securities, options, retirement plans, and asset management. Series 6 allows selling mutual funds, variable annuities, and insurance, while Series 63 permits selling securities in specific states. These licenses are fundamental for professionals entering the securities field.

Broker-Dealers in Financial Markets

Broker-dealers encompass both brokerage and dealer functions, known as broker-dealers by regulators. This term applies to primary dealers, Wall Street entities, commercial and investment banks, even boutique firms for affluent clients.

These firms play a pivotal market role, enabling stock trading infrastructure. To buy stock, an essential step is opening a brokerage account through a brokerage firm. This firm verifies your account funds, facilitates stock exchange interaction, conducts trades through its systems, and maintains transaction records. It manages financial exchanges between buyers and sellers, as well as future transactions like dividends and stock splits. Broker-dealers underpin seamless financial market operations.

Charles Schwab, E-Trade, and TD Ameritrade stand out as renowned broker-dealers. Charles Schwab offers comprehensive financial services, while E-Trade and TD Ameritrade focus on online brokerage. Additional broker-dealers are LPL Financial, Northwestern Mutual Investment Services, and Lincoln Financial Network.

Compensation for Broker-Dealers

Broker-dealers receive compensation through brokerage fees for trade execution. These fees are either flat per transaction or a percentage of sales. Dealers, in contrast, profit from bid-ask spreads by trading for themselves—buying a security and selling it at a higher price.


In an intricate and evolving financial landscape, information becomes invaluable. A solid comprehension of industry jargon is vital. While advantages and disadvantages accompany broker-dealer collaboration, your familiarity with the industry's terminology lays the foundation for comprehending its mechanics. This involves gaining insight into your investment mechanisms, the services linked to your fees, their sources, and potential legal implications in case of disputes.

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