In financial services, a broker-dealer is a natural person, company or other organization that engages in the business of trading securities for its own account or on behalf of its customers. Broker-dealers are at the heart of the securities and derivatives trading process.
When executing trade orders on behalf of a customer, the institution is said to be acting as a broker. When executing trades for its own account, the institution is said to be acting as a dealer. Securities bought from clients or other firms in the capacity of dealer may be sold to clients or other firms acting again in the capacity of dealer, or they may become a part of the firm's holdings.
The 1934 Act defines "broker" as "any person engaged in the business of effecting transactions in securities for the account of others," and defines "dealer" as "any person engaged in the business of buying and selling securities for his own account, through a broker or otherwise." Under either definition, the person must be performing these functions as a business; if conducting similar transactions on a private basis, they are considered a trader and subject to different requirements. When acting on behalf of customers, broker-dealers have a duty to obtain "best execution" of transactions, which generally means achieving the best economic price under the circumstances.
Many broker-dealers also serve primarily as distributors for mutual fund shares. These broker-dealers may be compensated in numerous ways and, like all broker-dealers, are subject to compliance with requirements of the Securities and Exchange Commission and one or more self-regulatory organizations, such as the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). The forms of compensation may be sales loads from investors, or Rule 12b-1 fees or servicing fees paid by the mutual funds. There are several online portals that offer broker dealer assistance and search capabilities.
The common Japanese term for a broker-dealer is "securities company". Securities companies are regulated by the Financial Services Agency under the Financial Instruments and Exchange Law. The "big five" are Nomura Securities, Daiwa Securities, SMBC Nikko Securities, Mizuho Securities and Mitsubishi UFJ Securities. Most major commercial banks in Japan also maintain broker-dealer subsidiaries, as do many foreign commercial banks and investment banks.