Brokerage firms, also known as broker-dealers, are licensed by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to buy and sell securities for clients and for their own accounts.
When a brokerage firm sells securities it owns, it is said to be acting as a principal in that transaction.
Firms frequently maintain research departments for their own and their clients' benefit. They may also provide a range of financial products and services, including financial planning, asset management, and educational programs.
Brokerage firms come in all sizes, from one- or two-person offices to huge firms with offices around the world. They are sometimes differentialed as full-service or discount firms, based on pricing structure and client relationships.
Some brokerage firms exist entirely online, and nearly all firms offer you the option of placing orders electronically rather than over the telephone. In most cases, trading electronically is substantially less expensive than giving buy and sell orders by phone.
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