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Derivatives in Finance – Types and Examples

Financial derivatives are contractual agreements that derive their value from an underlying asset. Hedgers and speculators utilize these contracts to exploit market volatility. The contract purchaser commits to purchasing the asset at a predetermined price and date while the seller also engages in a corresponding agreement. Various derivatives exist, including futures, options, forwards, and swaps. This article extensively explores financial derivatives, encompassing what is a financial derivative, its types, features, benefits, drawbacks, and more.

Define Derivatives in Finance

Derivatives in finance refer to the financial contract deriving their value from any underlying asset, benchmark, or group of assets. It is established between two or more parties and may be traded over the counters or on an exchange. These contracts enable the trading of various assets and come with their risks. Fluctuations influence the prices of derivatives in the underlying asset. 

They are commonly employed to gain access to specific markets and can be used for hedging against risk. Derivatives either mitigate risk (hedging) or assume risk in anticipation of corresponding rewards (speculation). They facilitate the transfer of risk (and the associated rewards) from risk-averse individuals to those willing to take risks.

Importance of Derivatives in Finance

Financial derivatives are vital in risk management as they enable investors to safeguard themselves against losses in the underlying assets. Hedging, which involves counterbalancing potential investment losses through positions in other markets, becomes possible through derivatives. They serve as practical tools for mitigating different risks, such as interest rate fluctuations, currency volatility, and fluctuations in commodity prices.

How do Derivatives Enable Market Participants to Manage Risk and Uncertainty?

Financial derivatives greatly aid the ability of market players to handle risk and uncertainty. They are financial products whose value is based on an underlying asset or benchmark, such as stocks, bonds, commodities, or interest rates. The following are a few ways that derivatives help with risk management:

  • Hedging: Market players might use financial derivatives to protect themselves against potential losses from unfavorable price changes. Investors can reduce possible negative risks and protect themselves from market volatility by placing offsetting positions in derivatives contracts.  
  • Price Discovery: Information regarding future asset values can be found in the derivatives markets. Market players communicate their predictions and views about the future direction of prices by purchasing and selling derivatives contracts.  
  • Speculation: Derivatives are frequently used for risk management, but they also draw investors looking to make money from price changes.  
  • Leverage and Enhanced Returns: Financial derivatives can increase investment returns using leverage. Investors might amplify their gains (or losses) by employing less cash to handle a larger investment.
  • Portfolio Diversification: Investors may control their total risk exposure and diversify their holdings using financial derivatives. Market players can diversify their investments and spread their risk by employing derivatives with several underlying assets.

Derivatives in Finance – Types and Examples

Types of Financial Derivatives

Types of financial derivatives can be broken down into the following types:


Options are financial derivative contracts that grant the purchaser the right, without the obligation, to sell or purchase the underlying asset at a fixed price within a specified timeframe. American options offer the flexibility to exercise at any point before the option period ends, whereas it is possible to exercise the European options on their expiration date.


Futures contracts are uniform agreements that enable the contract holder to purchase or sell the underlying asset at a predetermined price on a designated date. In contrast to options, the parties involved in futures contracts are entitled and obligated to fulfil the terms of the agreement. These contracts are actively traded on exchange markets, ensuring high liquidity, intermediation, and regulation by the exchange itself. The standardised nature of futures contracts facilitates convenient closure or offsetting of positions by buyers and sellers before the contract expires.


Forward contracts share similarities with futures contracts as they impose both the right and the obligation on the contract holder to fulfil the agreed-upon terms. However, unlike futures contracts, forwards are traded over the counter, lacking regulatory oversight and specific trading regulations. Being non-standardised products, forward contracts offer customisation options to meet the involved parties’ needs. Due to their tailor-made nature, forward contracts are typically held until expiration and settled through delivery rather than being unwound or closed out.


Swaps are derivative contracts that facilitate the exchange of financial obligations between two parties involved in the contract. Among the various types of swaps, interest rate swaps are the most prevalent among investors. Unlike exchange-traded instruments, swaps are traded over the counter (OTC) due to their customisable nature. These are customised according to the specific needs of the involved parties. As market demands have evolved, additional swaps have emerged, including credit default, inflation, and total return swaps.

How Derivatives in Finance Work?

Due to their inherent complexity, derivatives are generally not employed for simple buy-low-sell-high or buy-and-hold investment strategies. Instead, participants in derivative transactions often utilize them for the following features of financial derivatives:

  • Hedging a financial position: When an investor is uncertain about the future direction of a specific asset’s value, they can employ derivatives to safeguard themselves against potential losses.
  • Speculating on an asset’s price: If an investor anticipates significant changes in the value of an asset, finance derivatives can be utilized to speculate on the potential gains or losses associated with that asset.
  • Enhancing the utilization of funds: Most finance derivatives operate on margin, allowing individuals to engage in these transactions with a relatively small amount of their capital. This enables more efficient utilization of available funds. 

Describe the Basic Mechanics of Financial Derivatives

The following features of financial derivatives are part of the fundamental mechanics of financial derivatives:

  • Underlying Asset: The underlying asset, which might be a physical good, a financial product, an index, or even an interest rate, is what gives derivatives their value.
  • Contractual Agreement: The basis for derivatives is a contract between two or more parties. These agreements explain the derivative transaction’s parameters and the parties’ rights and duties.
  • Types of Derivatives: Financial Derivatives come in various forms, such as options, futures contracts, forward contracts, swaps, and more. Even while each kind differs in some ways, they always contain some sort of contract whose value is derived from the underlying asset.
  • Long and Short Positions: In finance derivatives trading, the buyer (long position) and the seller (short position) are generally the two parties engaged. The seller receives the premium or enters into a contract to sell the derivative, whereas the buyer pays a premium or enters into a contract to buy the derivative.
  • Expiration and Maturity: The contract for a derivative must include an expiration or maturity date. The derivative agreement ends on this day, and the parties’ rights and duties are resolved. Settlement might occur at contract expiration or regular intervals during the contract term, depending on the kind of financial derivative.

Examples of How Derivatives Are Used in Practice

Examples of derivatives in financial markets include futures contracts, options contracts, and credit default swaps. However, the universe of derivative contracts extends far beyond these, offering a wide array of options to cater to the diverse requirements of counterparties. Notably, a significant advantage of many derivatives is their potential for extensive customisation, primarily when traded over the counter (OTC), enabling them to be tailored to a virtually limitless extent to specific needs.Derivatives in Finance – Types and Examples

Advantages of Financial Derivatives

  • Hedging Risks
    Derivatives are the ideal tool for risk hedging, which is the process of lowering risk in one’s investment by making another investment. Financial Derivatives are often employed with the aim of minimizing risk in the market and are used as an insurance policy to mitigate risk. The example makes it evident that the corn farmer and the buyer employed derivatives to hedge price risk by fixing the price of corn. 
  • Low Transaction cost
    Compared to traditional assets like shares or bonds, trading in derivatives has lower transaction costs. Derivatives enable lower transaction costs since they are a risk management tool.

Disadvantages of Financial Derivatives

  • High Risk
    The underlying asset’s changing value significantly influences these contracts since the value of these instruments is derived from the underlying asset. The underlying values, such as shares, bonds, etc., are subject to unforeseen market fluctuations.
  • Speculative nature
    The most popular instrument for speculating to make money is derivatives. Because of the market’s unpredictability, speculating is dangerous and can lead to significant losses.

Regulation of Financial Derivatives

The following are regulations of derivatives in finance:

  • Creating procedures for encouraging the market players and their responsibility and accountability. These market participants mainly include exchanges, brokers, and settlement and clearing agencies.
  • Establishing a system that effectively applies the rules and legislation that exchanges and other market intermediaries have created to oversee activities in these marketplaces.
  • Setting up mechanisms to verify conformity to the rules and laws controlling market transactions.


Finance Derivatives pose significant risks but are indispensable tools for investors seeking risk reduction in a volatile market. Extensive knowledge about these financial instruments is crucial to navigating the derivatives market and achieving lower risk and higher profitability. Since derivatives are leveraged instruments, their outcomes can swing in either direction, leading to profits and losses. Therefore, conducting thorough research and understanding the market comprehensively is imperative to mitigate risks and maximize potential gains in this domain.

About the Author 

Hero Vired aims to revolutionise the learning experience by offering skill-enhancement programs led by esteemed industry practitioners.


There are several reasons why investors would choose financial derivatives, such as:
  • For addressing market volatility and minimize losses.
  • To make good use of arbitrage opportunities and gain profit.
  • You will get access to different markets and assets.
Derivatives in finance refer to the contracts known for deriving their value from an underlying asset. It is mainly used for speculating and making money.
The four different types of derivatives in finance are:
  • Options
  • Forward
  • Future
  • Swap
The five products of derivatives in finance include:
  • Options
  • Single stock futures
  • Warrants
  • Contract for difference
  • Index return swaps

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