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Confusing Step-Out Trades vs. Trades Away in the Financial Industry
3 min read

Clarifying the Confusion: Trades Away vs. Step-Out Trades in the Financial Industry

puzzle representing the financial marketIn the complex world of financial transactions, the terms “trades away” and “step-out trades” often surface, leading to confusion among industry professionals. Both concepts play critical roles in the clearing and settlement processes of trades, but distinguishing between them is essential for ensuring compliance and efficient operation. This blog post aims to demystify these terms by exploring their definitions, histories, their necessity, the clearing and settling process for each, and the potential compliance impacts of confusing them.

Defining the Terms

Trades Away: This term refers to a situation where a broker executes a trade on behalf of a client through another firm that is better positioned to carry out the order. This might be due to better pricing, faster execution times, or access to a specific market. The executing firm then sends the trade back to the original broker for clearing and settling.

Step-Out Trades: A step-out trade involves transferring a portion of a block trade to another firm after the trade has been executed. Essentially, it’s a reallocation of trade portions among different parties while maintaining the original execution details. This process allows for the division of large orders among multiple accounts, facilitating better management and compliance with client mandates.

Historical Context

A split screen showing two distinct trading floorsBoth trades away and step-out trades have evolved from the industry’s need to manage large volumes of orders efficiently and to navigate the regulatory and competitive landscapes. Historically, as markets expanded and regulatory environments became more complex, these practices developed as solutions to optimize trade execution, manage risk, and comply with fiduciary responsibilities.

The Necessity of These Trades

The financial industry requires mechanisms like trades away and step-out trades to enhance liquidity, manage risk, and ensure that clients’ orders are executed in their best interest. They allow brokers to leverage external capabilities and market access, ensuring clients get the best possible execution outcomes. Moreover, they provide a means to handle large orders without adversely impacting the market price, thus protecting the interests of all stakeholders.

Clearing and Settling Process

Financial Market historical ContextTrades Away: In trades away, the executing broker performs the trade and then transfers the trade details back to the client’s broker for clearing and settlement. This process involves coordinating between the executing firm and the clearing firm to ensure accurate record-keeping and fund transfer.

Step-Out Trades: For step-out trades, the initial execution details remain intact, but the allocation of the trade is adjusted among participants. This requires precise communication and agreement between parties to ensure that each participant receives the correct portion of the trade for clearing and settlement.

Compliance Impacts

Lighthouse standing firmConfusing trades away with step-out trades can have significant compliance implications. Misunderstanding these processes may lead to errors in reporting, misallocation of trades, and even violations of best execution requirements. For the executing side, accurately identifying and processing these trades is critical to fulfilling contractual and regulatory obligations. On the clearing side, proper identification ensures that trades are settled correctly, funds are allocated accurately, and compliance with financial regulations is maintained.

For the buy and sell sides of the trade, understanding the distinction is crucial for accurate record-keeping, client reporting, and meeting fiduciary responsibilities. Misinterpretation can lead to client dissatisfaction, regulatory scrutiny, and potential financial penalties.


While trades away and step-out trades serve essential functions in the financial markets, accurately distinguishing between them is vital for operational efficiency and regulatory compliance. Financial professionals must understand the nuances of each to navigate the complexities of trade execution, clearing, and settlement processes effectively. As the financial markets continue to evolve, clarity in these and other operational practices will remain a cornerstone of industry compliance and client satisfaction.