Copy trading platforms let you copy the trading activity of experienced traders to help you make more profitable trades. The best copy trading platforms include social features to let you find, observe and copy experienced traders on their social networks. In this guide we explain what copy trading is, where you can do it as well as explain the potential risks and rewards.
eToro: Best copy trading platform
What is Copy trading?
Copy trading is a process by which traders copy the trades of another trader. It is a form of mirrored execution that have been around for a decade or so. However, it has recently been made popular by social trading networks like ayondo and etoro
Copy trading has been around for a decade or more however it’s in the last few years that it has come to prominence. Copy trading as the name implies is trading that is conducted through a social network though generally not, Twitter Facebook or Instagram, though social media has had its part to play in the growth of copy trading with sites and communities such as Stock Twits and Seeking Alpha showing how well social discourse and trading mix together.
Copy trading grew out of the boom in self-determined online trading and the rapid growth of social media which allowed like-minded individuals to exchange ideas and information about topics of mutual interest. Copy trading simply joined the dots between these two worlds. The first formal copy trading service was launched back in 2010 with the launch of eToro and there have been several high profile copy trading platform launches in the UK, Europe and the USA in recent years.
Copy trading is usually conducted through the network of an online broker whose customers come together to discuss the markets and highlight trading opportunities but it can take one of several distinct forms which we will look at in greater detail shortly. Social traders may be able to see what stocks and instruments the peers are trading in and to follow those trades should they choose to do so.
If we were to define copy trading we would say that it is a form of investing in which the investors can observe and monitor the activities of his or her fellow traders and share ideas and information with that same group. That exchange of information can be used to enhance the individuals and the groups trading performance. Perhaps the best or simplest way to think of copy trading would be as an online iteration of the wisdom of the crowds.
How does copy trading work?
Copy-trading was one of the first forms of copy trading and initially became popular in FX markets thanks to the widespread adoption of the MT4 trading platform. MT4 allowed users to run so-called Expert Advisors or EA’s.
Specialist software and applications written by third parties which provided additional trading services and tools. One of which was the ability for traders to copy the trades of more experienced and established traders and to do so automatically. The EA software allowed traders to scale this copy trading to suit their account size such that they would copy the direction and style of a trader but only in the size that their account allowed.
There were benefits from copy trading for all parties: Brokers that permitted copy trading saw their trading volumes increase traders that gathered a copy trade following would be rewarded by the broker they executed through or by subscription, and the end trader would ideally find a successful trader to effectively trade the markets for them without them needing to be involved most of the time. In copy trading, you are effectively backing the judgement of the person you are following and automating your trading to replicate theirs usually with a portion of your account which meant that you could copy or follow a variety of traders who might have different approaches or techniques, or trade in different instruments allowing copy traders to diversify their exposure
Social trading can definitely be profitable. However, the same rules apply in copy trading as in any other form. You will need to be disciplined in your approach, you need to make trades through genuine and regulated firms. You must do your own research and be rigorous in your strategy and trader selection process and as always put your own capital preservation and money management above all else.
There is no doubt that some traders are much better than others but don’t automatically think that a copy trader is a superstar just because they have a 12 month return in the high 40 percent range, if for example they were trading technology stocks in a year where the Nasdaq 100 rose 47%. Because you could have achieved the same returns by simply buying and holding an ETF on the index over that period.
Copy trading gurus or leaders are not employed by the brokers
The traders that you can copy or follow in copy trading are not employed by the copy trading brokers though they may receive some kind of volume related compensation or other payments from them.
Each trader will need to be judged on their own merits and track record and as we noted earlier their performance should ideally be compared to a relevant benchmark or other yardstick.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that many of these traders will have only been active in a bull market and strategies and ideas crafted in a bull market may not perform in bearish conditions. Finally the old adage that previous performance is not an indicator of future returns is also worth thinking about.
How copy trading changed the way people trade
Copy trading can change the way we trade, for example in copy trading the skill is not picking the best trade opportunities and actioning those, but rather in picking the best traders and track records to follow. And in that respect, it’s more like running a fund of funds or other portfolio construction.
Even if we don’t use copy trading and trade socially through a community. The trading process is different than if we trade solely on our own. Interacting with others in the community swapping ideas and discussing opportunities will influence our judgement and decision making. and hopefully for the better. Copy trading can also provide us with metrics and data that we can use as part of the trading process. By, for example, looking at sentiment and exposure indicators to determine whether a trade opportunity is worth pursuing or is already overcrowded.
Some traders like to use these sentiment measures as reverse indicators on the basis that when large numbers of retail clients are one way in a market they are normally wrong typically because they opposing a long withstanding trend by trying to pick tops, bottoms and turning points
Are copy trading portfolio managers are a good idea?
To some extent when you copy or follow a trader in copy trading you are taking a leap of faith because there are no guarantees that the trader will perform as advertised. Longer track records and a good size following may be some indication of stability and consistency in their approach, and as we have seen brokers can try to encourage adherence to risk management rules by withholding rewards from those who break them. Hence the need for diligent selection and diversification in your copy trading follows.
How risky is copy trading?
Copy trading is a risky business and should only ever be undertaken with risk capital. That is money that you can afford to lose and are not relying on to pay bills or meet other existing financial commitments. The flipside to the risks involved in trading are the rewards it can generate. The traders job is to maximise the latter whilst reducing the former.
In copy trading you are delegating a certain amount of that responsibility to third parties, who may not always do a good job. And if the traders that you are copying or following get it wrong and lose money, then so will you. Hence the comments earlier about diversification and money management. If you are following a high frequency or automated strategy in say FX mirror trading you will need to consider your trading costs because they can soon eat into your capital even if the strategy isn’t losing you money.
Scams and fraud unless you choose a reputable broker
Sadly we always need to be on the lookout for scams and fraudsters of which there are many, however by choosing to trade through a reputable and regulated broker you can avoid most of these risks, What’s more by dealing and FCA regulated business your capital is protected by the UK financial services compensation scheme (FSCS) against fraud or failure to a maximum of £85,000 per regulated entity.
As always it’s important to choose a bonafide and well-regulated broker to pursue copy trading through. Look for a broker who is regulated by the FCA or a regulator of equivalent standing. Don’t trade with companies that registered in or operate out of small islands in the Caribbean, Indian Ocean or Pacific. And as ever be wary of promises and claims of outsize returns or higher levels of margins remember if something looks too good to be true then it most likely is.
Copy and mirror trading are never going to be fire and forget strategies. In using them what you are effectively doing is giving another trader or automated strategy access to, or control over some. or all of your portfolio and trading. That will need to be monitored in the same way that any other investment should be.
The size of the copy trading market
Etoro claims to have to have 14 million users on their platform. That figure seems high and it seems likely to us that this figure represents the total number of people who have ever registered an account rather than the total number of active users which will be some fraction of that. Nonetheless 2020 has seen huge growth in the numbers of new traders coming to the market in 2020 and many of these new traders are millennials and generation Z.
DriveWealth, a technology platform that supports the trading activities of a wide range of brokers across the globe saw record growth in accounts openings across its network in Q4 2020 and found that 78% of those new accounts were opened by investors under the age of 40. Whilst the number of accounts opened by those who were 20 or younger jumped by 39% compared to the previous quarters.
It’s younger generations that tend to embrace copy trading and an increasing interest in trading generally across these cohorts will certainly boost the numbers of social traders globally.
As we noted earlier, copy trading and in particular copy trading first became popular in FX markets with the launch, in 2005, of the MetaTrader 4 platform and the dedicated market place in expert advisors or EA’s that it supported. In 2010 eToro bought the concept of online social and copy trading to other markets with its own platform. More recently brokers such as Freetrade in the UK and Robinhood in the USA have created large copy trading communities.
Copy trading is still relatively unknown to large numbers of investors, for example, a study conducted in France in June 2019 showed that 62 % of investors were unaware of copy trading. What’s more, millennials who typically adopt new technologies quicker than other parts of the populace, were equally unaware with 64% of those under the age of 35 who were surveyed had no knowledge about copy trading.
Even though the profile of copy trading was raised significantly in 2020 there is still significant growth potential in the market place and the recent boom in the prices of cryptocurrencies is helping to drive another wave of growth in the practice.
Different types of copy trading
Under copy trading, social traders can pick other traders to follow from a dedicated marketplace which typically gives a brief bio of the traders, their strategy, tenure and track record. Social traders can choose to follow the trader and allocate a certain percentage of their account to that trader. that portion of their account will then copy the trades made by the followed trader which will be scaled or right-sized to the level that’s appropriate for the proportion of the follower’s account that’s been allocated.
Mirror is similar to copy trading but mirror trading systems tend to run by algorithmic strategies rather than human traders. Once again those wishing to engage in mirror trading will select a strategy they wish to follow from an online marketplace and once engaged the signals and trades created by the algorithm are automatically mirrored or traded on the follower’s account without any further human interaction.
Copy trading communities
Broker supported communities in which traders can usually chat and exchange ideas and information between themselves. These services effectively marry a dedicated social media network with a brokerage account. Social brokers tend to offer low cost or commission-free online dealing, fractional share ownership and insights into the communities activities.
The regulation of copy trading in the UK
Regulation depends on where the broker that you perform copy trading through is domiciled both The FCA and ESMA view the provision of copy and Mirror trading services as a regulated activity and as such it should only be provided by or under the supervision of an authorised firm.
Once again common sense dictates that you should only use reputable and bonafide brokers when investing or trading.
Firstly the broker that offers copy trading should be regulated and ideally by a recognized regulator in a developed economy. Secondly bear in mind that even the best traders will experience losses and drawdowns. Track records that just show consistent gains should give pause for thought. After all if the trader is that good why are they sharing their ideas with you?
Bonafide brokers websites will contain risk warnings and may contain details of the percentage of clients that lose money trading leveraged products with them. They will also contain details of their regulation and if regulated in the UK display a unique FRN number that can be cross checked against the FCA register.
When choosing a brokerage partner for any kind of trading activity it’s important to get unbiased feedback about a firm and its services . Independent review sites such as the Good Money Guide can be very helpful in assisting you in making your choice of counterparty. As they provide expert guides and user reviews alongside easy to read comparisons allowing you the user to make an informed decision.
Part of that choice will be confirming the credentials of your broker of choice and as we have already noted they should be authorised and regulated by the UK Financial Authority or FCA.
FCA regulated businesses have to conform to high standards of conduct in their dealings with their customers. Investment firms have to treat customers fairly and must hold client funds in segregated client money accounts,at major financial institutions, such as a UK clearing bank.
That client money is also protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme which guarantees upto £85,000 of deposits held with an FCA regulated firm.
Could you earn enough through copy trading to make an income?
In theory yes but once again much will depend on your account size, the amount of the account that you allocate to copy or mirror trading. And most importantly of all your choice of the traders and strategies you follow
Can you generate passive income through copy trading?
There are two ways to generate and in come through social and copy trading the most obvious one is too put some money in to a copy trading account and then allocate that money to traders that you choose to copy as we have already noted this is effectively an asset allocation decision and the account holders role will be to monitor performance and manage the risk and their capital if your account grows ie you receive a return on your investment you can always draw down some of that profit to crete and income stream.
For example, if you had £10,000 in a copy trading account if and when that initial capital grew to £12,000 you might withdraw that excess £2000.00 leaving your original capital in the account to trade and in theory you should be able to repeat this exercise as frequently as circumstances allow.
The other way to earn an income from copy trading is as a trader that people follow top traders in copy trading communities can be remunerated by the broker or network for the orders that they generate as they effectively increase the turnover of the broker.
At eToro under their popular investor program qualifying traders can earn between $400 and $800 per month however this is a tiered system and those traders that reach elite or elite pro status can earn between 1.5% and 2.5% of the total AUM or assets under management that follow them.
To become a popular investor, however, you will need to have an established account, a good track record and meet some strict risk management criteria set out by eToro. Traders that meet these criteria can apply for inclusion in the program but be aware that breaking these requirements can mean that you won’t receive your payments.
According to eToros last update there are now more 1000 popular traders in the scheme out of 14 million users though this figure shouldn’t be construed as active users.
Does copy trading work?
Yes it can do but the success or failure of your copy trading will largely depend on the traders and strategies that you choose to copy or follow and the risk management discipline that you apply if you let the traders you copy burn through your account then clearly you wont make money but if try balance risk versus reward by say setting a max drawdown that you are prepared to accept on any trader at say 20% of the capital allocated then you should have a fighting chance of making money assuming that is you have copied the right traders and have diversified you exposure sufficiently
Which is the biggest copy trading platform?
In terms of scale and popularity among copy trading platforms eToro is probably the biggest and most established provider. Its copy trading platform is very straightforward to use and traders can start with a minimum deposit of just $200. Though the size of your deposit will have a bearing on which traders you can successfully copy or follow.
Copy trading platforms reviews
The best places for copy trading reviews are in online communities and independent review sites. Trustpilot can be a good place to start the process and you can compare the comments made in the reviews there with those on the brokers website. Bearing in mind that disgruntled customers can often leave a poor review without fully explaining the issue or their inability to resolve it. However if all the reviews on a site like Trustpilot are poor then that’s a warning sign.
Reviews for eToro on Trustpilot are poor though most of the reviews are made users who have lost money trading so we must read between the lines there somewhat, However there are also plenty of negative comments about poor customer service and delays in withdrawing funds that contribute to an overall rating of poor on Trustpilots ranking system. eToro is very much an online business and an extremely popular one with user numbers but it needs to improve on customer service if its to secure more favorable reviews
The best copy trading network for beginners?
This is probably a choice between eToro and Pelican Trading, though technically Pelican is not strictly a broker but rather a platform provider, through which investors can socially trade but then execute through a connected third party broker of their choice. As we noted above eToro has some ongoing customer service issues but social copy trading can also attract inexperienced traders and newbies who have unrealistic expectations about what copy trading is and will achieve for them. Let’s be clear, copy trading is still a risky business and one could argue that it’s riskier than trading for yourself as such it’s most definitely not for everyone.
Both Pelican and eToro have intuitive and easy to follow ecosystems that are aimed at beginner traders and which contain lots of useful information and educational articles etc, Navigating around the eToro desktop platform is very straightforward and you screen for traders to follow or copy using a series of drop menus and filter that allow you for example to choose you want to trade in the region that you are interested in traders from and their returns profile.
So for example you can filter for equity index traders who are up more than 40% over the last 6 months and the platform will return a list of traders who meet your criteria.
You can make your search criteria more complex by adding additional fields or using the advanced filters eToro provides.
To copy those traders you simply need to click on the copy button displayed at the bottom of their profile.
Copy Trading Apps
Pelican Trading has been specifically designed for mobile and its app is very well laid out for use on a phone or tablet. You can easily search for traders and follow or copy them. Though Some accounts are restricted and you can only follow their activity by copying them. To access other services simply select your own profile and use the menus at the bottom of the page where you find links to educational articles, account funding and online support. You can also toggle alert settings on and off for specific messages and trade types.
Traders can message and comment on traders they copy or share those details on social media. Traders may also place their own trades and review their positions directly from the app.
The cheapest copy trading platform
Copy trading is free at both Pelican and eToro, that is you don’t pay anything to follow and copy other traders’ trades. Though you will pay execution fees just as you would as if you were trading for yourself. At Pelican those charges will depend on the broker that your are connected with and execute through whilst at eToro you simply pay the bid offer spread and any applicable transaction fees in the instruments that are traded.
Who offers the best website and overall platform?
eToro has the best platform and easy to navigate website for copy trading it really is intuitive to use pleading on the eye and simple to navigate around
Who has the best mobile app?
Pelican Trading was designed to be used and accessed on mobile devices from the ground up so it makes the best use of a phone or tablet’s native features. with functionality such as social sharing message alerts and a host of other features built in.
Where can you find reviews of brokers for their forex offering?
You can find reviews for brokers ands platforms that offer FX copy trading online in the same way that you would if you looking for reviews of hotel or restaurant the best advice is to check and range of review sites including independent review sites like the Good Money Guide to try and get a holistic opinion of a service or provider.
Who is the best copy trading broker for copy trading?
The best copy trading service will be the one that suits you the most if your existing broker is one that is connected to Pelican Trading then it would probably make sense to use them but if not or if you want to keep your copy trading separate from any other trading or investments activities you undertake then you may want to consider eToro or others.
Who offers the best copy trading demo account?
Demo accounts are a realistic simulation of the live markets in which traders become familiar with the way that markets operate and move and within which traders can practice and hone their strategy without risking any real money. Time spent learning on a demo account can help you avoid costly pitfalls and mistakes later when you are trading in the live markets with real money.
Pelican Trading offers a demo account on its platform with 10,000 units of notional money to trade with
The demo environment allows you test ideas and strategies and to familiarize yourself with a trading platform and its operations. You can get comfortable with the process of trading and managing your account balances and measuring performance etc but do so without risking any hard won capital. Of course once you are feeling confident that you know what you are doing you can look to move into the live trading environment.
Copy trading risk warnings
The same risk warnings apply to copy trading as to any other form of trading or higher risk investment that is that you should only use risk capital that is money that you can afford to lose,
If you are copy trading in leveraged instruments you will need to heed the same risk warnings and win loss ratios that apply to other traders in those products which is that by and large a majority of retail clients that trade in CFDs and margin FX lose money.though the exact figures will vary by provider though they typica;lly between 70 and 80%.
The ins and outs of how copy trading works
In social or copy trading traders group together in social networks and follow or copy the trades of successful traders in the hope that those traders can make for them too
What is the process of copying a trade?
A social trader opens an account with a broker or a specialist copy trading platform once their account is funded they can explore the community looking for traders with a good track record that they can copy or follow. When they follow a trader they typically allocate a proportion of their account that they wish to copy that traders trades with. And from that point on the trades that the followed trader makes will be replicated on the followers trading account.
Who pays the trading guru & how they get paid
The followed traders may receive payments from the platform provider or broker as a reward for increasing trading turnover but there are usually specific criteria that must be met before followed trades can earn money from their idea and trades. Following traders do not usually pay fee for the service but will pay for the execution of trades conducted on their trading accounts
How the technology works
Copy trading technology replicates the trades that a followed trader makes in the accounts of their followers and scales those trades to the appropriate size for each followers account. The size of the individual trades will be determined by the amount of money each of the following traders is copying the lead trader with. So that someone following with £1000.00 will have trade sizes twice as someone who is following that trader with just £500.00. In essence everything is pro rata to the applicable account size.
The process of making a copy trade
Trades are made by the traders you follow; you don’t have to do anything yourself other than selecting the traders you wish to follow and ensuring that you have sufficient funds on your account to do so.
Adding money to your account for copy trading
You can add funds to your account in the same way you would any other trading account of course if you add additional money to your account you may need to amend your allocations to the traders you are following in order to put that to work.
Opening and closing positions
Trades are opened and closed by the traders that you follow
What is automated and what is manual.
Social traders manually select those traders that they wish to follow and manually allocate the amount of money they wish to follow that traders within their account.
In copy trading all trades are automatically copied into your account subject to thor being sufficient funds or free equity available to make the trade
How multiple people following a single trader can affect the markets
The most popular lead traders can have a substantial following of copy traders and in effect the lead trader is trading for these individuals and their orders are aggregated imagine a situation where a lead traders has a thousand follows each of whom normally trades in £1000 worth of the underlying security each of those £1000 trade on its own might not impact the market. However, in combination they equate to a million pound trade and that may well have a market impact.
This is less likely to be an issue in FX trading but it could be something worth considering if you are copy trading in equities.
Is copy trading win-win?
The Idea behind copy trading is that it should create a virtuous circle in which everyone can benefit- lead traders can build an audience, demonstrate a track record and get paid for their contribution. The brokerage or platform provider sees additional turnover and order flow. Whilst the copying traders get the opportunity to see how a more experienced and successful trader approaches the markets and gets to benefit from their positive P&L. The success or otherwise of the process depends on the traders that the following trader selects and their performance of course.
The risks of copy trading.
The same risk warnings apply to copy trading as to any other form of trading or higher risk investment that is that you should only use risk capital that is money that you can afford to lose,
If you are copy trading in leveraged instruments you will need to heed the same risk warnings and win loss ratios that apply to other traders in those products which is that by and large a majority of retail clients that trade in CFDs and margin FX lose money.though the exact figures will vary by provider though they are typically between 70 and 80%.
Copy trading vs other types of trading
Copy trading and spread betting are two separate things that shouldn’t be confused with each other Spread Betting is a form of speculation unique to the UK in which traders can bet on the performance of a wide range of financial markets.
Spread bettors are self determining ie they trade/ bet for themselves whilst social traders allow third parties to trade a proportion of their funds on their behalf.
Spread betting offers potential tax advantages to UK taxpayers because the profits made from betting are not subject to UK capital gains tax
Is spread betting likely more popular with more experienced traders?
Spread betting is usually undertaken by traders who believe they have an edge and will get to keep all of the profits they make. However, the statistics show us that the opposite happens and the vast majority lose money and find that those losses can not be offset against capital gains made elsewhere.
How to be a successful copy trading
Successful copy trading comes down to asset allocation and risk management on the part of the following trader, and there’s little difference between that and allocating to say actively managed funds or ETFs. So if you are considering copy trading you may want to compare it to one or both of those options.
Which markets can you trade on through copy trading accounts?
It’s possible to copy traders in most asset classes including commodities and FX however the rules on cryptocurrency were recently tightened by the UK FCA and brokers can no longer promote or market these products to retail clients in the UK.
Is day trading possible?
The tenure of trading is going to be determined by the lead traders you follow however you could look for traders who take little or no overnight risk if that is the strategy you wish to pursue.
Can you trade MT4s?
Pelican Trading’s system can link directly to MT4 and the Meta trader platforms are specifically designed to support EA’s or expert advisors many of which offer mirror or copy trading
How to choose the best copy trading account for you
You should consider the amount of money that you will commit to copy trading and how that fits with the profile of the traders for example if you have just £1000.00 to commit to an account and the traders that you’re interested in following recommend a minimum allocation of £1000.00 then clearly there is a mismatch
How to open a copy trading account
Opening an account is straightforward particularly if you are using a platform that will link to an existing brokerage account in which case you just need to submit contact details and link your account to the platform. If you are opening an account with a brokerage then you will need to prove your identity and address though it may be possible for the broker to verify these details electronically in which case you wont need to submit supporting documentation.
Adding funds to a copy trading account
You can deposit funds using the payment methods that are accepted by your broker. They will be happy to tell you what these are.
Once your account is open and funded you will need to pick a trader or traders to follow, select the amount of money that you will follow them with and wait for them to place a trade.
How to research and find out more about copy trading
The internet will be your friend here, look at review sites and the blogs and chats of trading communities to get a feel for the overall opinion about a particular broker or service. It’s never a bad idea to ask your friends and contacts if they have any experience or knowledge of copy trading and any views or recommendations. Don’t be afraid to join trading communities ask their members if they have had good or bad experiences. In the end you will need to be happy with the findings of your research. Remember as well that you can always test the water by opening a demo account or alive account that you fund with a small amount of capital to road test the service before committing more fully to it.
When it comes to choosing the traders that you will follow through copy trading you will need to do some due diligence don’t just be attracted to the traders that have highest returns though clearly the level of return will be a factor however you will also want to consider longevity and consistency of returns. The copy trading platforms share some quite detailed information about the performance of traders with monthly breakdowns, details of their portfolio and running P&Ls and risk scores etc. That means you can draw up a short list of traders and compare them over these and other metrics before making your decisions and committing capital to them.
Copy Trading FAQs:
It is possible to make money with copy trading. To do so you need to follow profitable traders. However, if you follow a trader that does not make money you will also lose money. It is possible to make more or less profit or loss than the trader you follow by setting your risk parameters accordingly.
Social trading gurus or trade leaders get paid two ways. First they bank their own profits from trading and secondly by either a flat fee per follower or a percentage of the income generated for the traders that follow their executions.
No, profits made through copy trading are subject to taxation in just the same way that other trading profits are.
No many hedge funds are only available to HNWI or accredited investors and are not open to retail traders. You may find traders to follow that trade like a hedge fund but they won’t be hedge funds themselves.
The first step is to join a copy trading platform like eToro and start trading for yourself and establish a positive and consistent track record. If you do well you will soon find that you move up the rankings and that other traders will start to take an interest in what you are doing and start to follow you growing your personal community. eToro provides clients with tips and advice on how to promote yourself and your activities one obvious way would be to share your performance on external social media and on trading sites where potential followers may be found. What you are aiming for is consistency of returns, clear communication of your ideas and performance to your audience and creating your own following which should grow over time.