Foreign exchange (forex) trading, in its essence, has roots dating back to ancient times when traders began exchanging coins from different countries and groups. However, the modern forex market as we know it today can be traced back to a significant event in 1944—the Bretton Woods conference in New Hampshire. This article explores the historical background of the forex market, its current state as an electronic network of banks, and the potential future developments in the industry.

The Bretton Woods System:

In 1944, representatives from 45 nations gathered at Bretton Woods to establish a postwar forex system. The outcome of the conference was the creation of the International Monetary Fund and an agreement that fixed currencies in an exchange rate system. This system allowed a 1 percent fluctuation of currencies against gold values or the U.S. dollar, which served as the gold standard. The practice of connecting currency values to gold or the U.S. dollar was referred to as "pegging."

The Collapse of the Bretton Woods Accord:

By the early 1970s, the Bretton Woods Accord faced significant challenges due to uncontrollable currency rate fluctuations. In 1971, President Richard M. Nixon took the decision to abandon the gold standard, leading to the collapse of the fixed-rate system. Currencies were then allowed to float freely, marking the beginning of the modern forex market. Since then, forex trading has rapidly grown to become the world's largest financial market.

The Structure of the Forex Market:

Unlike traditional markets with a central exchange, the forex market operates electronically through a network of banks. It functions as an over-the-counter market, facilitating spot foreign currency transactions. Banks play a crucial role in forex trading as they manage their currency deposits based on customer transactions. Investment managers also participate in the market, taking positions in currencies along with more traditional instruments such as bonds and equities.

The Growth of the Forex Market:

According to the Bank for International Settlements, the average daily turnover in global forex markets reached approximately $3.98 trillion in April 2010. This represented a growth of around 20 percent compared to the $3.21 trillion daily volume in April 2007. Retail transactions in the forex market are expected to continue expanding, with China and surrounding areas driving significant growth. As regulatory oversight increases, forex brokers are exploring different business models, including offering swaps, forwards, and other regulated investment vehicles.

The Future of the Forex Market:

With stricter regulations in place, forex brokers in the United States are diversifying their offerings. In addition to retail off-exchange forex, brokers are considering the inclusion of commodities, equities, and forex options as regulated investment options. The industry is witnessing a trend of convergence, where forex brokers expand their services to include equities and commodities, attracting a larger customer base. This shift may lead to industry-wide consolidation and potential acquisitions by established equity brokers.


From its origins in ancient times to the establishment of the modern forex market at Bretton Woods, forex trading has undergone significant transformations. Today, the forex market operates electronically, connecting banks worldwide and facilitating spot foreign currency transactions. As the market continues to evolve, new opportunities and challenges arise, including the growth of retail transactions and the exploration of regulated investment vehicles. The future of the forex market holds potential for further expansion and integration with other financial markets.