Being a trader in this age is challenging as old trading methods have been phased out, and electronic trading platforms are evolving. Both human traders and algorithmic trading are fast competing, but which one of the two is better?
Algorithmic trading is generally better than human traders as it allows probing for liquidity and order placement, thereby making many trades across many markets over the day possible. Contrarily, human traders are agile to changing market conditions and can pivot their trading strategy when needed.
This article covers each of these trading methods in detail and lists their pros and cons.
IMPORTANT SIDENOTE: I surveyed 1500+ traders to understand how social trading impacted their trading outcomes. The results shocked my belief system! Read my latest article: ‘Exploring Social Trading: Community, Profit, and Collaboration’ for my in-depth findings through the data collected from this survey!
Table of Contents
Algorithmic Trading: A Basic Overview
Algorithmic trading is also known as automated trading. It’s a type of trading that enables traders to come up with rules for both trade entries and exits, which, when programmed, can be executed through a computer automatically.
Investors and traders turn entry, exit, and money management rules into automated trading systems that allow the computers to monitor and execute the trades. The trades are placed once a specific criterion has been met.
Some of these conditions that dictate the entry and exit rules include those set by a qualified programmer or strategies to understand the user’s trading platform’s programming language.
After the rules have been set, the computer checks the market to find buy or sell opportunities depending on the trading specifications. That means when a trade is entered, any orders for profit targets, protective stop losses, and trailing stops are generated automatically.
When dealing with fast-moving markets, this immediate order entry can differentiate between a significant loss and a small loss if the trade moves against the trader.
Pros of Algorithmic Trading
Algorithmic trading mainly involves the use of a computer to monitor the market for trading opportunities. The computer also helps with the execution of these trades. Using an automated system has some advantages compared to other forms of trading. These advantages include:
Takes Emotions Out of the Trading Process
One of the advantages of automated trading systems is that they eliminate emotions throughout the trading process. Traders don’t directly access the decisions made as the computer executes the trade orders once the trade rules are met.
Traders don’t have time to question the trade or hesitate to place an order. Algorithmic trading also helps those who are afraid to place an order due to fear of loss.
In addition to eliminating emotions from the trading process, algorithmic trading helps preserve discipline as the trade rules are set, and trade execution is done automatically. Factors like the desire to make more profit from a trade or the fear of making a loss can lead to a loss of discipline.
Incorporating algorithmic trading ensures discipline is maintained as the trading plan is automated and follows the set rules. Traders face the problem of planning the trade and trading the strategy. Sometimes a human trader will not want to place a trade order for fear of further losses even if the next trade would have won. Having an automated trading system allows the trader to be consistent in his/her trading plan.
Allows You to Trade Multiple Accounts or Use Different Strategies at Once
Algorithmic trading systems allow a trader to use different strategies or trade several accounts at one time as everything is automated. A computer can look for trading opportunities across various markets, place orders, and monitor trades. What this does is to create protection against losing positions while spreading the risk over different instruments. That is something the human mind can’t accomplish in seconds.
Generates Orders Immediately
Computers are fast in how they respond to market conditions. That means they can generate orders once the trading rules are met. A fraction of a second can have an impact on the trade’s outcome.
Once a position is entered, the orders are generated automatically, including profit targets and protective stop losses. Algorithmic trading ensures trade doesn’t blow past the stop-loss level or have a trade reach the profit level before the order is entered.
Cons of Algorithmic Trading
Despite the fact that algorithmic trading has its advantages, it’s still a computerized trading technique. Unfortunately, anything automated is bound to have its shortcomings due to its human-made nature. Here are some downsides of algorithmic trading that you need to know:
Possible Technology Failures
While it would be nice to leave the computer on for the day as it executes trades, this isn’t something you can depend on because of possible technology failures. You have to monitor the system for problems like computer crashes, power loss, system issues, or connectivity problems.
An automated trading system is also likely to experience problems that could lead to duplicate or missing orders.
The Trading Method Is Sophisticated
While algorithmic trading may seem simple, all you need is to set up the software, program the rules, and watch as the system executes the trade. The reality is that algorithmic trading is complex.
A good example is when a trade order is not on the server but on the computer. That means if there’s an internet problem, the order may not be sent to the market. Mastering an automated trading system is a learning curve and is best when dealing with small trade sizes.
Human Traders: A Basic Overview
Human traders, unlike automated systems, can determine when to trade and when to stop. They will trade depending on their comfort level with risk. Which means they trade based on the events occurring at a specific time.
Discretionary trading, also called manual trading requires one to place, manage, and close the order directly on the trading platform. Human traders spend most of their time analyzing the market to check how market conditions evolve and evaluate their impact on profit and loss. The trader’s profitability is proportional to the time spent trading, though this can be a time-consuming activity.
Apart from the time spent trading, the human trader needs to use the right trading strategy. Using emotions or inappropriate trading strategies could lead to considerable losses.
Pros of Human Trading
Human trading means handling spot signals, analysis, place trades, and exit trades without machine assistance. Unlike algorithmic trading that allows you to generate orders and trade on multiple accounts, human trading takes time due to the continuous need for analysis. However, there are advantages of human trading like:
- Human trading allows for flexibility: One of the main advantages of human trading is that it allows you to fix anything if the trading system breaks or fails. That is something a computer cannot do as it’s designed only to execute the programmed trades. The algorithmic method of trading cannot fix itself or fix the problems.
- Monitoring of data: With human trading, you can monitor how the trades occur extensively. The human trader can make changes based on what’s been observed. Being a human means that you know when to strategize and get back. That could include knowing when to place a different trade depending on the news or exiting current trades. A human trader can quickly spot the fluctuations, something a bot cannot do.
Cons of Human Trading
Human trading also has its downsides, given the emotions associated with this form of trading. Unlike computerized trading that is fast in executing trades, human trading may take time as there are no machines involved in the process. Here’s a look at some drawbacks of human trading:
- Prone to lack of discipline and emotions: Humans are emotional beings, which means they can deviate from a specific trade due to their fear of losing. Other emotions like revenge, anger, and excitement can affect a trader’s ability to trade, something you won’t experience with automated trading.
- Slow in execution: Human traders may fail to execute their trades on time due to unnecessary delays. That makes this type of trading slower than algorithmic trading. Automated trading systems already have the rules set, and with a click of a button, a trade is executed. On the other hand, humans need to ensure everything is in their favor before executing a trade, a process that can take time.
Is Algorithmic Trading Better Than Professional Human Traders?
Despite computerized systems being fast in executing trades and allowing you to manage several accounts at once, it’s still impossible to beat a human professional trader. These automated systems are created by man plus the set of trading strategies. That means everything is centered on man. Moreover, the Securities and Exchange Commission has warned firms on the dangers of automatic trading.
Although human traders may have their shortcomings, they are still better compared to algorithmic trading.
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Experience is essential when developing an advanced trading system. While the automated systems allow the system to stick to trading rules, it’s prone to mechanical failures and needs constant monitoring.
Human trading still wins due to its flexible nature and ability to monitor the trades and their execution. Don’t forget there’s still the cost of hiring a programmer to code a trading strategy, which means there’s still human involvement.
BEFORE YOU GO: Don’t forget to check out my latest article – ‘Exploring Social Trading: Community, Profit, and Collaboration’. I surveyed 1500+ traders to identify the impact social trading can have on your trading performance, and shared all my findings in this article. No matter where you are in your trading journey today, I am confident that you will find this article helpful!
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