The interbank foreign exchange market is the foundation of the global forex ecosystem. This decentralized over-the-counter (OTC) market facilitates currency trading between banks, hedge funds, institutional investors and forex dealers. Understanding how the interbank forex market operates provides crucial insights into currency price movements. This comprehensive guide examines the structure, function and key players in the interbank market to shed light on this important segment of the $6.6 trillion daily forex trade.

What is the Interbank Foreign Exchange Market?

The interbank forex market is a network of currency trading desks at major banks that trade with each other and with other large institutions. There is no centralized exchange or clearing house. Trades are conducted over electronic communication networks (ECNs), with prices and spreads constantly fluctuating based on supply and demand.

The term “interbank market” refers to the exclusivity of this arena, with access traditionally limited to banks, financial institutions and other participants able to trade in large transaction sizes and volumes. Central banks also participate in the interbank market to implement monetary policy.

How the Interbank Forex Market Works

There are different tiers in the interbank market, defined by trade sizes:

Top Tier

The top tier consists of transactions between commercial banks and other huge financial institutions trading in minimum transaction sizes of $1 million or more. Price quotes at this level are nearly exact with tight spreads.

Middle Tier

The middle tier sees smaller banks and financial services firms trading in transaction sizes from $100,000 to $1 million. Spreads are slightly wider at this tier.

Lower Tier

This tier is made up of smaller regional banks trading transaction sizes under $100,000. Spreads are wider compared to top and middle tiers.

Within each tier, forex transactions take place over ECNs or by phone between trading desks. There are no fixed trading hours or exchange. When the Asian trading session ends, Europe begins, followed by North America and back to Asia – creating an ongoing 24-hour market.

Banks trade for their own accounts but also execute trades for clients like corporations and asset managers. Interbank forex trading serves to facilitate these client orders, provide liquidity and hedge risk.

Key Participants in the Interbank Forex Market

The interbank market has traditionally been the exclusive domain of tier-1 banks, global money center banks and large financial institutions. Some of the notable players include:

Commercial Banks

International banks with large forex operations derive significant earnings from trading in the interbank market. This segment is a major profit center aside from regular retail and commercial banking. Banks like Deutsche Bank, Citibank, Barclays, JP Morgan and UBS actively trade foreign exchange.

Central Banks

Central banks participate in the forex interbank market to implement monetary policy and control money supply, inflation and currency volatility. The U.S. Federal Reserve, European Central Bank, Bank of Japan and Bank of England are leading central bank players.

Hedge Funds

Hedge funds have increasingly gained access to the upper tiers of the interbank market due to their ability to trade in large transaction sizes. Hedge funds use leverage and algorithms for speculative currency trades.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Government-owned investment funds like the China Investment Corporation, Abu Dhabi Investment Authority and Norway’s Pension Fund Global access the interbank market for diversification and forex trading.

Investment Banks

While dealing mostly with equities, investment banks also operate currency trading divisions catering to institutional clients. Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch offer forex services.

Retail Forex Dealers

Regulated retail forex brokers obtain currency rates and liquidity from the interbank market to provide to individual traders and investors.

Interbank Forex Market Pricing

Unlike equities that trade on centralized exchanges like the NYSE and NASDAQ, the OTC interbank forex market lacks a standard central clearing venue. In its place is a global web of currency trading desks and electronic systems.

Liquidity providers or market makers at each major bank display bid and ask rates for currency pairs that serve as indicative prices. The bid represents how much the market maker is willing to pay for a currency. The ask is how much they will sell a currency for.

The difference between the bid and ask is called the spread. A 2 pip spread on EUR/USD of 1.1000/1.1002 means banks will buy euros at 1.1000 and sell at 1.1002. Spreads widen and tighten based on volatility and trading activity.

What Moves Interbank Forex Rates?

Interbank forex rates respond to macroeconomic forces of supply and demand. Major factors driving interbank rates include:

Central Bank Policy

Central bank interest rates and policy stances significantly impact currency rates in the interbank market. For instance, if the Fed raises U.S. rates, the dollar will strengthen versus other currencies.

Economic Fundamentals

Factors like GDP growth, unemployment, manufacturing data, and trade balances influence the relative strength of economies and their currencies.


Political uncertainty and events like elections, wars, and leadership changes affect currency and interbank forex pricing.

Market Sentiment

Shifting risk appetite among investors and traders moves capital flows between safe havens and risk assets, impacting forex.

Relative Growth Differentials

Currencies of countries with faster economic growth appreciate versus sluggish economies. This growth differential impacts interbank rates.

Rising inflation drives interest rates higher, leading to currency appreciation in the interbank market.

Interbank Forex Market Structure, Transparency and Regulation

The interbank forex market essentially runs on the honor system, relying on the creditworthiness of its participants. Most forex trading between banks takes place without a formal contract or written documentation.

Post-trade transparency is low since there is no official reporting of interbank forex transactions and prices. The Wall Street Journal survey of leading banks gives indicative exchange rates for certain currency pairs that provide clues on rate movements.

The interbank forex market remains largely unregulated across jurisdictions. Banks are expected to maintain adequate capital, manage risk and follow ethical practices on internal compliance and oversight.

Evolution of the Interbank Forex Market

The interbank currency market has undergone key shifts over the decades:

Rise of Technology

Technological advances have accelerated forex trading and pricing. The rise of ECNs and electronic trading platforms has improved connectivity.

Greater Competition

Growing competition has reduced spreads and transaction costs. More banks now compete for forex business across global financial centers.

Role of Algorithms

Algorithms execute more trades based on technical analysis versus human discretion, leading to volumes surging.

Exchange Rate Regimes

The shift from fixed to floating exchange rates in the 1970s boosted forex trading volumes and interbank market activity.

Retail Trading Growth

Individual investors opening forex trading accounts has expanded the client base relying on the interbank market for pricing and liquidity.

Impact on Retail Traders

While retail traders don’t have direct access to the interbank market, its dynamics trickle down in important ways:

Exchange Rates

Currency prices on retail forex broker platforms are derived from the interbank market, often with markups. Understanding interbank rate drivers aids trading.

Spreads and Costs

Tightening spreads and trading costs resulting from interbank competition benefits retail traders.

Market Sentiment

Interbank forex flows shape overall market risk sentiment and impact currency pairs retail traders analyze and trade.

Trading Opportunities

Volatility and trends emerging in the interbank market create trading opportunities across forex pairs that individual traders can capitalize on.


As the backbone of the global forex market, the opaque interbank segment provides liquidity and pricing for all other participants. While notoriously secretive, fundamentals driving interbank rates ultimately reflect macroeconomic realities. Retail traders stand to benefit from monitoring rate movements and understanding factors at play in the interbank space when making trading decisions.