Automated trading platforms that offer social-copy and/or algorithmic trading features allow you to save time and effort when CFD and forex trading. Read on to discover the various ways you can automate trading strategies in 2021.
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Automated trading strategies are becoming increasingly popular due to the amount of time and effort that can be saved compared to manually trading. There are two key methods of automation available to retail traders. You can use trading robots to implement algorithmic trading strategies, such as Expert Advisors on MetaTrader platforms, or cBots on cTrader.
Alternatively, you can utilise social-copy trading tools that allow you to automatically copy the trades of others rather than develop your own trading strategies.
Most UK brokers offer some form of automation via their trading platforms or a third-party provider. Below we review the top auto-trading platforms for those based in the United Kingdom, along with the best brokers offering the software.
Algorithmic Trading Software
Social & Copy Trading Software
MetaTrader 4 was released in 2005 by MetaQuotes and has since grown into one of the popular trading platforms worldwide. A primary reason for MT4’s popularity is the software’s advanced algorithmic trading tools that allow for full automation. Within the MetaTrader community, trading algorithms (trading robots) are known as Expert Advisers.
To achieve full automation, MT4 users can develop Expert Advisers (EAs) that automatically monitor financial markets as well as enter and exit trades according to your preset parameters. When writing EAs on MT4 you use MetaQuotes Programming Language 4, (MQL4) which is comparable to the C programming language.
While writing custom EAs is ideal for experienced traders, those new to forex trading may find it too complex. If you are a beginner trader wanting to use EAs, a good place to start is MetaTrader Marketplace. Due to MT4’s popularity, the platform boasts a large marketplace where you can download over 1,700 EAs along with 2,100 technical indicators.
After developing EAs you can test and optimise the algorithm against historical data using the platforms backtesting tools known as a Strategy Tester. A downside to MT4’s Strategy Tester is that only one test with a single financial instrument such as one currency pair. Additionally, it uses a 32-bit memory and a single server which may not handle intensive programs.
Although the platform’s backtesting features are sufficient for most traders, MetaQuotes newer trading platform, MetaTrader 5, provides more sophisticated backtesting tools with multi-asset capabilities and more.
MetaTrader 4 is predominately a forex trading platform, although CFDs derived from other asset classes such as commodities and indices are accessible on the platform. The full range of financial instruments you can trade on MT4 depends on the broker you are using.
While cryptocurrency trading is offered by many global brokers on MT4, it is now prohibited in the United Kingdom. The UK’s financial regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), recently banned retail traders from trading cryptocurrencies due to the high levels of volatility and risk. Meaning, if you want to trade cryptocurrency on MT4, you are required to sign up to a broker outside of the UK, i.e. with a CySEC (Europe) or ASIC (Australia) regulated broker.
MT4 comes with restrictions regarding market access. You can only trade financial products from decentralised exchanges such as forex, and therefore stock trading is not possible on MT4 as it runs through a centralised exchange.
As well as algorithmic trading, MT4 is many retail traders platform of choice thanks to:
Please note, MetaQuotes has ceased to offer any technical or customer support for MT4 users. The software developers also recently announced they would no longer be selling MT4 licences to brokers.
Pepperstone is one of the most popular forex and CFD brokers for those wanting access to MT4 and Expert Advisors. Key features offered by the Australian-based broker include:
View Pepperstone Review >>Visit Pepperstone >>
MetaTrader 5 (MT5) was released by MetaQuotes in 2010 to cater to those wanting to trade a wider range of financial instruments. A key difference between MT4 and MT5 is market access. Unlike MT4, MT5 offers trading products from centralised as well as decentralised exchanges. Therefore, as well as CFDs derived from forex, indices, commodities and so on, you can also trade physical stocks with certain brokers.
While MT5 was not necessarily created to replace MT4, it does offer additional trading tools along with some upgrades.
Like MT4, MetaTrader 5 offers advanced algorithmic trading via Expert Advisors. Certain features like the programming language and backtesting are improved from its predecessor. Yet, due to MT4’s continuing popularity, the community and Marketplace are smaller.
Programming Language: Similarly to its predecessor, you can use Expert Advisors to automate trading on MT5. To develop your own EAs, you use the MQL5 programming language that is based on the C++ language, which many traders consider easy to learn than MQL4. Unfortunately, the languages aren’t interchangeable, meaning if you have an EA written in MQL4 you can’t use it on MT5 (although converters exist online).
Marketplace: Although MetaQuotes has made it easier to access the Marketplace by adding a built-in tab to the platform, the size of the marketplace is smaller than MT4’s. Yet, with MetaQuotes ceasing customer support or license sales for MT4, MT5’s popularity and therefore Marketplace will continue to grow.
Backtesting: One of the major upgrades included in MT5 is better quality backtesting tools. MT5 Strategy Tester uses 64-bit memory and 4 servers, allowing for more efficient processing of high volumes of data. MT5 backtesting is also multi-threaded, meaning you can test and optimise your EA with multiple currency pairs or instruments at one time.
As well as improvements to backtesting and the software’s programming language, MT5 offers the following tools to enhance your CFD and forex trading experience:
IC Markets is a top MT5 broker thanks to ultra-tight spreads, a wide range of CFDs, and good trading conditions for Expert Advisor strategies. The broker offers:
TradeStation is an FCA regulated option for UK traders requiring automated trading systems, especially those wanting an English-like programming language. In partnership with Interactive Brokers, the trading platform allows for automated CFD trading as well as traditional futures, options, and stock trading.
To start trading, you can apply for a TradeStation Global account type which is a collaboration between TradeStation and Interactive Brokers. With a TradeStation Global account, you open a trading account with Interactive Brokers Universal that provides you access to the TradeStation platform and 135 financial markets including 23 currency pairs. A minimum deposit of $1,000 is required.
As well as the premium TradeStation platform, a TradeStation Global account type gives you access to Interactive Brokers Trader Workstation (TWS), IBKR WebTrader, and the IBKR mobile apps for Android and Apple devices.
When trading forex CFDs, commission fees are calculated as 0.6 basis points x trade value, with a minimum fee of $2.00 USD (or equivalent).
If you are trading US Share CFDs, you’ll pay USD $0.007 per share while US 500 Index CFDs commission fees are 0.0075% per trade fee. Brokerage fees for UK and Euro Share CFDs are 0.075% per trade fee, and 0.015% for Euro 50 Index CFDs and 0.0075% per trade fee for UK 100 Index CFDs.
To write custom automated trading systems, you use EasyLanguage, TradeStation’s proprietary programing language. The programming language uses common English-like statements and is considered user-friendly for those wanting to write custom indicators and trading strategies.
You can design order management, market analysis, and scanning tools using thousands of inbuilt functions, properties, and keywords. As with other algo trading software, you can test and optimise your trading strategies against historical market data using the platform’s backtesting tools.
On top of automated online trading, the TradeStation software provides the following inbuilt trading tools and features:
View Interactive Brokers Review >>Visit Interactive Brokers Markets >>
eToro is a broker that hosts one of the world’s largest social-copy trading communities with millions of traders. Through its proprietary trading platform, the broker offers a range of online trading activities including copy trading, CFD trading, stock trading, and portfolio investing.
You can trade and copy trading strategies that include a range a diverse range of asset classes on the platform, with 2,000+ stocks, ETFs, indices, commodities and crypto.
Please note, if you want to trade cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash, you will need to sign up to an eToro subsidiary outside of the UK. Recently the Financial Conduct Authority in the UK banned retail investor accounts from trading crypto. If your focus is cryptocurrencies, the broker is overseen by various top-tier regulators, and most UK traders can sign up to ASIC (Australia) or CySEC (Europe) branches.
The platform’s social-copy trading feature, CopyTrader, can be handy whether you are an experienced trader looking to save time or a beginner trader learning the basics. Rather than develop and execute your own trading strategies, you can copy top-performing traders that are known as Popular Investors.
To find Popular Investors to follow and copy, you can filter trading statistics, risk scores, and more to find trading strategies that match your preferred asset classes and objectives.
As well as copy other traders, you can also communicate with other members of the social trading community, with an inbuilt newsfeed and the ability to chat with one another and share ideas and knowledge.
For a longer-term investment option, eToro offers CopyPortfolios where your portfolio is automatically managed and rebalanced as needed by eToro’s in-house experts. A higher minimum deposit of $5,000 is needed to invest in CopyPortfolios.
In addition to CopyTrader and CopyPortfolios, the software comes with a range of trading tools to supplement automation:
Capitalise AI is a third-party automated trading software that can be integrated into different platforms. To save you time, Capitalise.ai’s software will monitor the trading environment and market data in real-time 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Examples of automated systems you can build include:
The software allows you to achieve code-free automation with custom technical indicators and trading strategies. It opens up automation to beginner traders as it is easy-friendly and uses free-style text commands to write trading signals.
To help you create and manage automated trading strategies, Capitalise.ai provide a range of trading tools and features:
To start using Capitalise.ai, you can sign up to FXCM and link the software to either MetaTrader 4 or Trading Station. When trading forex and CFDs with the online broker, retail investor accounts gain the benefits of:
View FXCM Review >>Visit FXCM >>
ProRealTime is trading software that can be integrated into other platforms and is designed for automation and technical analysis. With the advanced functionality, the trading software is suited to experienced traders requiring a greater range of analysis tools.
ProOrder is ProRealTime’s automation and backtesting tool. There are three approaches to adopting automation via ProOrder – you can code your own trading systems, use the software’s code-free Wizard or search the ProRealTime Marketplace online. If you are writing your own algorithms, the ProBuilder programming language is used and comparable to Visual Basic.
IG is a global broker offering ProRealTime that is regulated by the UK’s FCA among others. Retail traders can integrate ProRealTime into their IG trading platform and gain access to a professional traders’ work environment. The IG platform enables you to trade the broker’s full product range, with 16,000 financial markets to choose from.
As an IG trader there is no cost for the first month, then however if you don’t make at least four transactions per month, you will be charged a monthly fee of $40.
View IG Markets Review >>Visit IG Markets >>
cTrader is the third-most popular mainstream trading platform worldwide after MetaTrader 4 and MetaTrader 5. The predominately forex trading platform is popular among retail investor accounts wanting an ECN environment thanks to depth of market pricing, advanced charting tools and ultra-fast execution speeds.
Similar to MetaQuotes Software, cTrader Automate allows you to develop advanced trading robots (algorithms), known as cBots rather than Expert Advisors.
To fully automate CFD and forex trading, cBots can be written or downloaded from the cTrader Marketplace online. As cTrader Automate is less popular than Expert Advisors, the online community and marketplace are smaller with fewer cBots available to download.
If you are writing your own cBots, the C# programming language is used in the visual studio or inbuilt code editor. Once built or downloaded, cBots can be tested and optimised against historical data using the software’s backtesting features, or in live conditions via demo accounts.
For cTrader Automate and cBots, Pepperstone is the best broker overall thanks to Razor account spreads from 0.0 pips + commission, ultra-fast order execution speeds, and a wide range of asset classes and CFDs. To explore cTrader and Pepperstone’s Razor trading account before risking real money, you can sign up for a demo account with the broker free of charge.
Trading Signals is MetaQuotes social-copy trading feature that is available on both MetaTrader 4 (MT4) and MetaTrader 5 (MT5). Traders within the MT4 and MT5 communities can create signals that other community members can copy.
On MT4 trading signals are developed in the MQL4 programming language, while MT5 hosts MQL5 signals. In total, there are over 3,200 free and paid trading signals to choose from and duplicate.
While many features are similar across MT4 and MT5 when social-copy trading, a major difference is how you can access Signals. MT5 comes with an inbuilt Signals tab that allows you to easily search for and employ trading signals without having to leave the platform, while MT4 users are required to find signals online.
Another difference is that MT5’s trading community is not as large due to the popularity of MT4. Therefore, there are fewer signals available to copy. Yet, the library of MQL5 signals will continue to grow as MetaQuotes slowly phases out support and licenses for MT4.
As MT4 comes with a large community and range of Signals to duplicate, Pepperstone is a top broker for MQL4 MetaTrader Signals. If you prefer to use MQL5 Signals, IC Markets is one of the best brokers with MT5.
Yes, eToro is licensed and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority in the United Kingdom. The social-copy broker provides strong investor protections to traders in the UK in line with FCA forex trading regulation, such as negative balance protection and leverage caps. To find out more about forex trading in the UK, read our trading guide here.
It is legal to use trading robots (bots) in the UK to automate trading. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) permits retail traders to execute both algorithmic and social-copy trading strategies.
Trading robots, aka bots or Expert Advisors, still carry a high risk of losing money as traditional CFD trading does. Yet, algorithmic trading strategies come with certain benefits that may reduce the risk such as eliminating human emotion and the ability to process large amounts of data at the same time.
With advanced algorithmic trading abilities and an established trading community and Marketplace, MetaTrader 4 is the best automated trading platform overall. The mainstream software is offered by many top brokers like Pepperstone and offers extensive trading tools to help you develop automated strategies.
Justin Grossbard has been investing for the past 20 years and writing for the past 10. He co-founded Compare Forex Brokers in 2014 after working with the foreign exchange trading industry for several years. He also founded a number of FinTech and digital startups including Innovate Online and SMS Comparison. Justin holds a Masters Degree and an Honours in Commerce from Monash University. He and his wife Paula live in Melbourne, Australia with his son and Siberian cat. In his spare time, he watches Australian Rules Football and invests on global markets.