Financial Products

From Open Risk Manual


A financial product is a product (typically in the form of a Financial Contract but equally well financial infrastructure) provided to consumers and businesses or other organizations (such municipalities or sovereigns) by financial institutions such as banks, insurance companies, brokerage firms, consumer finance companies, and investment companies all of which comprise the financial services industry.


A financial product (also a "financial instrument" or "financial service") is most commonly a contractual agreement between two counterparties, one of which is in the financial services business. This economic activity establishes an ongoing monetary relationship for a period of time, along with possible other ancillary services that facilitate this relationship.

The contractual agreement is typically summarized in a Terms Sheet and may have extensive legal provisions. The agreement will typically specify the exchange of monetary value at various points during the lifetime of the product. These exchanges potentially depend on the realization (or not) of specified events.

Financial products are characterized by the fact that there are no real assets or services exchanged, even though there may well be reference to such assets (e.g. in a Mortgage, derivatives or Insurance contract).

Ancillary services that may be coupled to a financial product are e.g. electronic accounts or other facilities that enable the execution and monitoring of the ongoing relationship.

It is useful to distinguish aspects of the financial system that are not normally referred to as "financial product".

Financial Product versus Transactions

Entering into a financial contract constitutes a financial transaction but a financial transaction does not necessarily involve a financial product. For example the exchange of Cash from one Currency to another can be an anonymous, Spot Transaction (not a financial product). In contrast, a scheduled exchange of monies between two eponymous counterparties over an agreed period of time under a Swap contract is indeed considered a financial product (offered by one entity to another).

Financial Product versus Infrastructure

Financial services may provide access to infrastructure without this access implying a financial product/contract in the sense used here. E.g. a current account providing access to a Payments system will involve a contract (and product fees) but does not specify any significant monetary exchanges between the provider and the user.

Financial Product Origination

Financial Products are indeed produced, they require the active addition of value by financial system intermediaries. Financial products involve contracts that are typically bilateral in nature. It is quite usual to denote specialized financial services providers as the product originators (also sell side) whereas the range of non-specialized contracting counterparties are product consumers (also "buy side").

When both counterparties to a financial contract are specialized financial services entities (e.g in derivatives swap contract) the bilateral nature is more explicit and they are typically denoted as simply the counterparties to the contract (it is not considered a product being sold).

Financial Product Classification

Financial products come in a large variety, linked to the diverse nature of:

  • The contracting counterparties
  • Legal and/or tax characteristics (linked to jurisdiction)
  • Product functionality (the use and purpose)
  • The main Risk Type that underlies the product (e.g Credit Risk, Insurance, FX Risk etc.)

Products by Type of Contracting Counterparties

Counterparties involved in financial products are either physical persons or other recognized legal entities. The list includes:

  • Physical Persons
  • For-Profit Companies
  • Government / sub-governmental entities
  • Trusts
  • Non-Profits
  • Supra-nationals entities

Each of the legal entities involved is bound to a legal jurisdiction which determines the nature of financial products it can be entering into and its rights and obligations.

Products by Legal and/or Tax Characteristics

This dimension concerns the legal status of financial activities enable a given financial product. This status is determined in relation with the jurisdiction involved.

  • Transferability (whether the contract can be transferred from one of the original counterparties to another)
  • Compliance with specific restrictions (e.g. as mandated by religious or other criteria)
  • Recognition for tax purposes (depending on the variety of tax regimes)

Products by Economic Functionality

Product functionality is obviously a core attribute, being the reason for the existence and use of a product.

  • Payments Infrastructure: Platforms to support the various forms of Payments are the essential backbone of any financial system
  • Banking Products: A large category of financial products who's primary functionality is enabling the acceleration or delay of consumption / investment via the lending or saving of funds.
    • Lending products (loans, credit facilities) advance funds (cash) to be repaid in the future
    • Savings products (deposits, money market funds) store funds (cash) to be withdrawn at a future date
  • Foreign Exchange products: Products enabling the conversion of funds between currencies
  • Other Derivatives and related products: Contracts enabling fine-tuned risk management (or speculation) on future states on any of a large variety of financial or economic indicators
  • Insurance products: Contracts providing risk protection for any of large variety of risk factors
  • Capital Markets Products (transferable instruments)
    • Corporate Securities (Shares, Bonds)
    • Asset Backed Securities (RMBS, CMBS etc.)
    • Sovereign Debt (Including e.g., Municipal Bonds)

Products by Risk Type

An alternative to classifying financial products focuses on the key risk factor involved (e.g., risks that generated, modified, managed or transferred) in the product. The following is a high level classification:

Many existing financial products may have complex dependencies on multiple risks. E.g. a mortgage loan will involve both credit and interest rate risk

Issues and Challenges

Given the huge range and scope of financial products there is no shortage of issues and challenges associated with their lifecycle. A broad categorization would split a key subset of all issues into the following two important subcategories:

  • Suitability of products for clients (in particular retail), typically linked to consumer protection authorities
  • Complexity and risk issues (including systemic stability issues), typically linked to prudential regulation authorities

See Also