Understanding the basics of online trading

Photo credit: Exness

The digital revolution has democratised financial markets by empowering individual investors with access to global trading opportunities. Online trading platforms have dismantled traditional barriers, allowing anyone with an internet connection and a mobile device to participate in trading assets like stocks, currencies, indices, and commodities from the comfort of their home.

For aspiring traders who are looking to navigate this dynamic landscape, understanding the core principles of online trading is essential. Here’s a comprehensive guide to the fundamental elements of online trading.

1. Trading Platform

What it is: A trading platform is a software application provided by brokerage firms that allows traders to buy and sell financial instruments. It serves as the primary interface between the trader and the financial markets.

Key features

  • Order Execution: Enables placing, modifying, and cancelling trade orders.
  • Charts and Analysis Tools: Provides technical analysis tools and real-time charts to analyse market trends.
  • Account Management: Allows monitoring of account balance, profit/loss statements, and transaction history.

Popular examples

  • MetaTrader 4 (MT4): Widely used for currencies and CFD trading, known for its robust charting tools.
  • MetaTrader 5 (MT5): An advanced version of MT4 with additional features for multi-asset trading.
  • Exness Webterminal: Known for its comprehensive tools and analytics; popular among Kenyan traders.

2. Brokerage Account

What it is: A brokerage account is an arrangement between an investor and a licensed brokerage firm. The account holds the investor’s funds and facilitates the execution of trades.


  • Cash Account: Requires all transactions to be paid in full with available funds.
  • Margin Account: Allows borrowing funds from the broker to leverage trades, thus increasing potential returns (and risks).

3. Financial Instruments

What they are: Financial instruments are assets that can be traded. They include a wide range of products, each with its own characteristics and trading mechanisms.

Common types:

  • Stocks: Shares of ownership in a company.
  • Currencies: Currency pairs where traders speculate on the exchange rate movements.
  • Commodities: Physical goods like gold, silver, oil, and agricultural products.
  • Cryptocurrencies: Digital assets like Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Litecoin.
  • Indices: Baskets of stocks representing a specific market or sector (eg, S&P 500).

4. Market Orders

What they are: Orders are instructions given to the broker to execute trades on behalf of the trader. Understanding the different types of orders is crucial for effective trading.

Types of orders

  • Market Order: An order to buy or sell immediately at the current market price.
  • Limit Order: An order to buy or sell at a specific price or better.
  • Stop Order: An order to buy or sell once the price reaches a specified level.
  • Stop-Limit Order: A combination of stop and limit orders to execute at a specified price range.

5. Leverage and Margin

Leverage: Leverage allows traders to control a larger position with a relatively small amount of capital. For example, a leverage ratio of 10:1 means that for every $1 of capital, the trader can control $10 worth of assets.

Margin: Margin is the amount of money required to open and maintain a leveraged position. There are two main types:

  • Initial Margin: The upfront capital needed to open a position.
  • Maintenance Margin: The minimum amount required to keep the position open.

6. Risk Management Tools

Importance: Effective risk management is essential to protect capital and ensure long-term success in trading.


  • Stop-Loss Order: Automatically closes a position at a predetermined loss level to limit downside risk.
  • Take-Profit Order: Closes a position once it reaches a specified profit level, securing gains.
  • Hedging: Using various financial instruments to offset potential losses in other positions.

7. Trading Strategies

What they are: Trading strategies are systematic plans designed to achieve specific financial goals. They can be based on various factors, including technical analysis, fundamental analysis, or a combination of both.

Common strategies

  • Day Trading: Buying and selling assets within the same trading day to profit from short-term price movements.
  • Swing Trading: Holding positions for several days to weeks to capitalise on medium-term trends.
  • Scalping: Making numerous small trades throughout the day to profit from minor price fluctuations.

8. Education and Analysis

Continuous learning: Successful trading requires continuous education and staying updated with market news and trends.


  • Webinars and Online Courses: Offered by brokers and educational platforms to enhance trading skills.
  • Technical Analysis: Studying historical price charts and patterns to predict future movements.
  • Fundamental Analysis: Evaluating economic indicators, company performance, and market news to make informed trading decisions.

Choosing the right broker

Online trading offers numerous opportunities for individuals to participate in the financial markets and achieve their investment goals. By understanding the basic components such as trading platforms, brokerage accounts, financial instruments, and risk management tools, traders can navigate the complex world of online trading with greater confidence.

The aforementioned factors are also essential to choosing the right broker, especially in a dynamic market like Kenya.

Savvy investors, however, also prioritise regulatory compliance, fee structures, and the broker's reputation. They look for a broker licensed by the Capital Markets Authority (CMA) in Kenya, ensuring their funds are protected.

Transparency in trading fees, a wide range of tradable assets, responsive customer support, and a user-friendly platform are also key considerations.

Furthermore, the ability to seamlessly deposit and withdraw funds is crucial. A reputable broker like Exness, known for robust security measures and 24/7 access to funds with no transaction fees, can provide added peace of mind in an ever-changing market.