The term institutional investor refers to organizations that trade in securities in such high volumes that they qualify for lower commissions. Institutional investors provide financial services to customers and may be classified as non-bank financial institutions.
A non-bank financial institution (NBFI) provides financial services, but is not a licensed bank and does not accept deposits from customers. While an institutional investor may be a bank, they are typically operating as bank holding companies, pension funds, hedge funds, and mutual funds.
These investors pool the assets of their clients, thereby increasing their ability to trade securities in quantities such that commissions are lower than those offered to individual investors. They may also be offered preferential treatment with respect to speed of trade. Institutional investors can influence the decision making process of corporations, especially in terms of a dividend policy. For example, if the institutional investor is in possession of a large number of the corporation's common stock, they may also exercise their voting rights to influence the thought process of the company's board of directors.