10 Difference between OTC and Exchange (With Table)

What is the main difference between OTC and exchange? OTC is a market where securities are traded directly between two parties (over-the-counter), while exchange is a centralized platform where buyer and seller can trade securities based on the rules and regulations.

Buying and selling securities are carried out using over-the-counter (OTC) and exchange methods in the secondary markets. This post explains the differences between OTC and exchange with their similarities. Take the time to read the entire article for better understanding:

Difference between OTC and Exchange with Table

Basic Terms OTC Exchange
Definition Trading occurs directly between parties without a formal exchange. Trading takes place through a centralized platform (exchange).
Market Structure Decentralized and less regulated. Centralized and heavily regulated.
Securities Types Wide range, including stocks, bonds, derivatives, and custom financial products. Predominantly stocks, futures, options, and commodities.
Transparency Less transparent; prices and trades may not be publicly disclosed. Highly transparent; real-time prices, trade volumes, and order book visible.
Price Determination Negotiated directly between parties. Prices can vary between transactions. Determined by supply and demand on the exchange; uniform prices for all.
Counterparty Risk Higher counterparty risk as transactions rely on bilateral agreements. Lower counterparty risk due to central clearinghouses and standardized contracts.
Accessibility Usually available for institutional investors and some qualified individuals. Accessible to both institutional and retail investors.
Liquidity Can have lower liquidity in certain markets. Liquidity may vary widely. Typically higher liquidity due to the participation of multiple market players.
Regulation Subject to less regulatory oversight. Compliance requirements may vary. Highly regulated, with rules and oversight from government agencies.

What Is OTC?

Over-the-Counter (OTC) refers to a decentralized marketplace where financial instruments, such as stocks, bonds, derivatives, and custom financial products, are traded directly between parties without the involvement of a formal exchange.

In OTC markets, buyers and sellers negotiate and agree on trade terms directly, and transactions can occur over the phone, electronically, or in person. Examples of OTC Markets:

Stocks: Some smaller or less-traded stocks are traded on OTC markets, such as the OTCQX and OTCQB.

Bonds: Many corporate bonds and municipal bonds are traded OTC.

Derivatives: Certain options and swaps are traded OTC, especially those customized to specific needs.

Forex (Foreign Exchange): The forex market is OTC, where currencies are traded globally.

Cryptocurrencies: Many cryptocurrencies are traded on OTC markets, especially for large transactions.

OTC markets offer flexibility and are often used for securities that may not meet the requirements of formal exchanges. However, they may have less transparency and regulatory oversight compared to exchange-traded markets.

What Is Exchange?

An exchange, in the financial context, is a centralized and regulated marketplace where various financial instruments, such as stocks, bonds, commodities, futures, options, and currencies, are bought and sold.

It serves as an intermediary that facilitates trading activities by matching buyers with sellers. Exchanges provide transparency, standardized trading rules, and fair pricing for participants.

Examples of Exchanges:

New York Stock Exchange (NYSE): One of the largest and most well-known stock exchanges in the world, where stocks of many large companies are traded.

NASDAQ: Another major stock exchange known for technology and internet-related stocks.

Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME): A leading exchange for futures and options contracts, including commodities like oil and agricultural products.

Intercontinental Exchange (ICE): An exchange that specializes in energy, commodities, and financial derivatives.

Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE): An exchange focused on options and volatility products.

Exchanges provide a structured environment for trading, ensuring fair and efficient transactions. They play a crucial role in financial markets, enabling investors to buy and sell various financial instruments with confidence in the fairness and transparency of the process.

Main Difference between OTC and Exchange

  1. An exchange is like a marketplace, often an organization or institution, where buyers and sellers come together to trade stocks of listed companies. In contrast, OTC stands for over the counter, which refers to a decentralized market where buyers and sellers find each other, usually through a computer network or phone.
  2. In the OTC market, dealers act as market makers, setting the prices for buying and selling securities among participants. On the other hand, in exchanges, the market itself determines prices based on supply and demand.
  3. Smaller companies that don’t meet exchange requirements often trade their securities OTC, while larger businesses usually prefer listing and trading on an exchange.
  4. A key difference is that exchanges have physical locations where trading can involve shouting and hand signals. OTC markets have no physical presence; everything happens electronically or over the phone.
  5. Exchanges have set trading hours, while OTC trading can occur 24/7.
  6. In terms of transparency, exchanges are more transparent, providing participants with complete information about the securities being traded.
  7. Exchanges deal with standardized products, while OTC contracts can be customized.
  8. In the OTC market, price imbalances can lead to extreme highs or lows without mechanisms to halt trading. In exchanges, imbalances are managed by suspending trading in a particular stock until equilibrium is restored.

Similarities between OTC and Exchange

  1. Both involve the buying and selling of financial instruments.
  2. Both serve as venues for participants to engage in trading activities.
  3. Both can involve a wide range of financial instruments, including stocks, bonds, derivatives, and commodities.
  4. Both attract investors, traders, and institutions looking to trade these instruments.
  5. Both mechanisms contribute to price discovery, determining the value of financial instruments.
  6. Both offer opportunities for participants to profit from price changes in financial instruments.
  7. Both involve various levels of risk associated with trading in financial markets.
  8. Both may be subject to regulatory oversight and compliance requirements.
  9. Both are influenced by market forces, supply and demand, and economic factors.
  10. Both aim to provide transparency in trading activities, although the degree of transparency may vary.


The distinction between OTC (Over-the-Counter) markets and Exchange markets is significant and essential in the world of finance.

Exchanges with their centralized and regulated nature, offer transparency, standardized products, and a physical trading presence. They cater to larger, more established companies and employ market forces to set prices.

OTC markets are decentralized and less regulated, accommodating a wide range of financial instruments. Here, dealers act as market makers, setting prices directly, but this can result in less transparency and customized contracts.

While both OTC and Exchange markets enable trading and price discovery, they cater to different needs and preferences. OTC markets often serve smaller or less regulated entities, while Exchanges are favored by larger businesses.

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