Central Counterparty Clearing Houses (CCPs): What They Are and How They Work

By Laurel Tincher · March 08, 2022 · 4 minute read

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Central Counterparty Clearing Houses (CCPs): What They Are and How They Work

A central counterparty clearing house (CCP), or Central Counterparty, is a financial institution that facilitates trading activities in European equity and derivative markets. Regional banks typically operate CCPs which are an important part of the international financial system.

CCPs maintain stability and efficiency across financial markets and reduce risks including counterparty, default, and market risks. In the United States, CCPs are called Derivatives Clearing Organizations (DCO) and are regulated by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC).

Read on to learn more about what central counterparty clearing houses are, how central counterparty clearing houses work, and the uses of a central counterparty clearing house.

Defining Central Counterparty Clearing Houses

The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) defines a CCP as “a clearing house that interposes itself between counterparties to contracts traded in one or more financial markets, becoming the buyer to every seller and the seller to every buyer and thereby ensuring the future performance of open contracts.” The Eurex is a well known CCP.

Central Counterparty Clearing Houses act as intermediaries between buyers and sellers in financial transactions. They handle clearing and settlements in various types of securities and derivatives transactions to reduce credit risk in the markets. Clearing houses have existed for more than a century, but since the 2008 financial crisis they have risen in popularity as a way to reduce the risk of OTC derivative transactions.

How Central Counterparty Clearing Houses Work

Central Counterparty Clearing Houses guarantee trade terms for buyers and sellers. They help reduce risk for investors by taking on credit risk involved in transactions, so even if a buyer or seller defaults on a transaction the other party doesn’t have as much loss as they might have without the CCP.

When buyers and sellers enter into transactions, they each deposit money with the CCP to cover the amount of the transaction. All CCP users must have a margin account.

In a process called “novation,” the CCP enters into two different contracts, one with the buyer and one with the seller. This provides a guarantee to the other party that if one side doesn’t follow through with the agreement the other side will still receive payment. CCPs typically use margin calls to settle trades if one party does not have the funds in their account.

If the trade falls through, the CCP completes the trade at the current market price. CCPs are for-profit businesses that generate revenue from their members and their transactions. They also work with parent exchanges that require them to remain profitable. Just like other types of businesses, CCPs each operate differently and have different business strategies to attract customers and earn revenue.

For instance, there are different types of derivative products that a CCP might choose to offer. One common business model for CCPs is to cross-margin products in a single netting pool. Parent exchanges place obligations on CCPs, so they need to earn enough revenue to meet those.

The specific financial products offered by a CCP, as well as its risk level, fee structure, and other features lead to different types of members, organizational structure, regulations, and rules for margin balances.

CCPs continue to evolve, offer new products, and become more sophisticated over time. Regulations are also evolving for CCPs which may change how they operate in the future.

Uses of a Central Counterparty Clearing House

CCPs maintain the anonymity of investors’ identities to protect their privacy. They also maintain the privacy of trading firms from buyers and sellers by using electronic order books and protect brokerage firms from the risk of buyers and sellers defaulting on their end of options such as calls or puts.

Another use of CCPs is to lower the number of transactions settled in order to move funds efficiently between investors.

CCP Members

Financial institutions that want to clear trades through a central counterparty can become members of a particular CCP. Membership allows them to reduce credit risk for their customers and themselves. There are CCPs for different types of financial transactions, so financial institutions can choose the appropriate CCP to apply to for their needs.

CCPs want members that have a significant transaction volume, are creditworthy, and have a trading operation that works efficiently with the system run by the CCP. CCPs also want members to contribute funds to their default fund and secure collateral for their transactions. Each CCP has somewhat different criteria and requirements for membership, and membership information is not always publicly available.

Pros and Cons of CCPs

There are benefits and drawbacks to CCPs. Here are a few important ones to understand:

Pros

CCPs benefit investors in the following ways:

•   Reduce counterparty risk

•   Maintain stability in financial markets

•   Increase efficiency of transactions

•   Maintains privacy of customers

Cons

There are also some drawbacks to CCPs for investors, including the following:

•   Participation fees

•   May not be able to process non-standard transactions

•   Some CCPs may not have adequate scale

CCPs and Blockchain

CCPs are now being used with blockchain technology, made popular in cryptocurrency markets, to further reduce risk and costs. An international group of clearing houses launched the Post Trade Distributed Ledger Group launched in 2015. The group is studying the ways to use blockchain technology for transactions.

Since its formation, the group has expanded to include about 40 global financial institutions collaborating to bring CCPs together with blockchain. The goal of using blockchain technology with CCPs is to reduce margin requirements and risk, reduce operational costs, improve regulatory oversight, and increase the efficiency of trade settlements. Ideally blockchain can help support better settlements, clearing processes, and reporting.

Decentralized exchanges already operate similarly to CCPs as a third party that handles transactions.

The Takeaway

Central counterparty clearing houses help reduce the risk of trading derivatives and securities. They became more popular after the financial crisis as a way for investors to minimize counterparty risk.

However, it’s possible to build an investment portfolio without using a CCP. If you’re looking to get started building an asset portfolio, one great tool is the SoFi Invest® investment platform. The online trading platform lets you research, track, buy and sell stocks, exchange-traded funds, crypto, and other assets right from your phone.

FAQ

What is the difference between a clearing house and a central counterparty?

While a CCP acts as a clearing house for transactions, it has an additional step involved before doing so. The two parties involved in a transaction agree upon transaction terms, then the CCP must agree to the terms before they clear the transaction.

What is the CCP margin?

CCPs require customers to make collateral deposits, known as margin deposits, before entering into transactions. This provides them with funds they can use to guarantee trades in the event that one party defaults on an agreement. The initial margin required depends on the customer, the type of financial product, and the particular trade agreement.

Does central clearing reduce counterparty risk?

Central clearing reduces counterparty risk by guaranteeing trades for buyers and sellers. They take on the credit risk involved in transactions by becoming the buyer to every seller and the seller to every buyer.


Photo credit: iStock/vm

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