While historically commodity brokers traded grain and livestock futures contracts, today commodity brokers trade a wide variety of financial derivatives based on not only grain and livestock, but also derivatives based on foods/softs, metals, energy, stock indexes, equities, bonds, currencies, and an ever growing list of other underlying assets. Ever since the 1980s, the majority of commodity contracts traded are financial derivatives with financial underlying assets such as stock indexes and currencies.
Firms and individuals who are often collectively called commodity brokers include:
Floor Broker/Trader: an individual who trades commodity contracts on the floor of a commodity exchange. When executing trades on behalf of a client in exchange for a commission he is acting in the role of a broker. When trading on behalf of his own account, or for the account of his employer, he is acting in the role of a trader. Floor trading is conducted in the pits of a commodity exchange via open outcry.
Futures Commission Merchant (FCM): a firm or individual that solicits or accepts orders for commodity contracts traded on an exchange and holds client funds to margin, similar to a securities broker-dealer. Most individual traders do not work directly with a FCM, but rather through an IB or CTA.
Introducing Broker (IB): a firm or individual that solicits or accepts orders for commodity contracts traded on an exchange. IBs do not actually hold customer funds to margin. Client funds to margin are held by a FCM associated with the IB.
Commodity Trading Advisor (CTA): a firm or individual that, for compensation or profit, advises others, on the trading of commodity contracts. They advise commodity pools and offer managed futures accounts. Like an IB, a CTA does not hold customer funds to margin; they are held at a FCM. CTAs exercise discretion over their clients' accounts, meaning that they have power of attorney to trade the clients account on his behalf according to the client's trading objectives. A CTA is generally the commodity equivalent to a financial advisor or mutual fund manager.
Commodity Pool Operator (CPO): a firm or individual that operates commodity pools advised by a CTA. A commodity pool is essentially the commodity equivalent to a mutual fund.
Registered Commodity Representative (RCR)/Associated Person (AP): an employee, partner or officer of a FCM, IB, CTA, or CPO, duly registered and licensed to conduct the activities of a FCM, IB, CTA, or CPO. This is the commodity equivalent to a registered representative.
A single firm or individual may be registered and act in more than one capacity. In the United States, an individual working in any of the above roles must pass the Series 3 National Commodity Futures Examination administered by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). With few exceptions, most individuals who act as a FCM, IB, CTA, and CPO, as well as their RCR/APs, are required to register with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), and be members of the National Futures Association (NFA). Floor brokers/traders who are members or employees of a commodity exchange generally do not need to be members of the NFA, as they are regulated by the exchange.