What Is a Clearinghouse?

business man on tablet mobile

A clearinghouse is a financial institution that acts as a middleman between buyers and sellers in a market, ensuring that transactions take place even if one side defaults.

If one side of a deal fails, a clearinghouse can step in to fill the gap, thus reducing the risk that a failure will ripple across financial markets. In order to do this, clearinghouses ask their members for “margin”–collateral that is held to keep them safe from their own actions and the actions of other members.

While often described as the “plumbing” behind financial transactions, clearinghouses became high profile after the 2008 financial crisis, when the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. exposed the need for steady intermediaries in many markets.

Regulations introduced by the Dodd-Frank Act demanded greater clearing requirements, turning the handful of clearinghouses in the country into some of the most systemically important entities in today’s financial system.

Here’s a closer look at them.

How Clearinghouses Work

Clearinghouses handle the clearing and settlement for member trades. Clearing is the handling of trades after they’re agreed upon, while settlement is the actual transfer of ownership–delivering an asset to its buyer and the funds to its seller.

Other responsibilities include recording trade data and collecting margin payments. The margin requirements are usually based on formulas that take into account factors like market volatility, the balance of buy-versus-sell orders, as well as value-at-risk, or the risk of losses from investments.

Because they handle investing risk from both parties in a trade, clearinghouses typically have a “waterfall” of potential actions in case a member defaults. Here are the layers of protection a clearinghouse has for such events:

1. Margin requirements by the member itself. If market volatility spikes or trades start to head south, clearinghouses can put in a margin call and demand more money from a member. In most cases, this response tends to cover any losses.
2. The next buffer would be the clearinghouse’s own operator capital.
3. If these aren’t enough to staunch the losses, the clearinghouse could dip into the mutual default fund made up from contributions by members. Such an action however could, in turn, cause the clearinghouse to ask members for more money, in order to replenish the collective fund.
4. Lastly, a resolution could be to try to find more capital from the clearinghouse itself again–such as from a parent company.

Are Clearinghouses Too Big to Fail?

Some industry observers have argued that regulations have made clearinghouses too systemically important, turning them into big concentrations of financial risk themselves.

These critics argue that because of their membership structure, the risk of default in a clearinghouse is spread across a group of market participants. And one weak member could be bad news for everyone, especially if a clearinghouse has to ask for additional money to refill the mutual default fund. Such a move could trigger a cascade of selling across markets as members try to meet the call.

Other critics have said the margin requirements and default funds at clearinghouses are too shallow, raising the risk that clearinghouses burn through their buffers and need to be bailed out by a government entity or go bankrupt–a series of events that could meanwhile throw financial markets into disarray.

Clearinghouses in Stock Trading

Stock investors have already probably learned the difference between a trade versus settlement date. Trades in the stock market aren’t immediate. Known as “T+2,” settlement happens two days after the trade happens, so the money and shares actually change hands two days later.

In the U.S., the Depository Trust & Clearing Corp. handles the majority of clearing and settling in equity trades. Owned by a financial consortium, the DTCC clears on average more than $1 trillion in stock trades each day.

Clearinghouses in Derivatives Trading

Clearinghouses play a much more central and pivotal role in the derivatives market, since with derivatives products are typically leveraged, so money is borrowed in order to make bigger bets. With leverage, the risk among counterparties in trading becomes magnified, increasing the need for an intermediary between buyers and sellers.

Prior to Dodd-Frank, the vast majority of derivatives were traded over the counter. The Act required that the world of derivatives needed to be made safer and required that most contracts be centrally cleared. With U.S. stock options trades, the Options Clearing Corp. is the biggest clearinghouse, while CME Clearing and ICE Clear U.S. are the two largest in other derivatives markets.

The Takeaway

Clearinghouses are financial intermediaries that handle the mechanics behind trades, helping to back and finalize transactions by members.

But since the 2008 financial crisis, the ultimate goal of clearinghouses has been to be a stabilizing force in the marketplace. They sit in between buyers and sellers since it’s hard for one party to know exactly the risk profile and creditworthiness of the other.

For beginner investors, it can be helpful to understand this “plumbing” that allows trades to take place and helps ensure financial markets stay stable.

Want to start investing but don’t know where to start? SoFi Invest® has financial planners ready to answer any questions. Investors can also choose between the Active Investing or Automated Investing platforms, depending on how hands-on or hands-off they want to be.

Check out SoFi Invest today.



SoFi Invest®
The information provided is not meant to provide investment or financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals and risk profile. SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance. Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC. SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA / SIPC . The umbrella term “SoFi Invest” refers to the three investment and trading platforms operated by Social Finance, Inc. and its affiliates (described below). Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of the platforms below.
1) Automated Investing—The Automated Investing platform is owned by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor (“Sofi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC, an affiliated SEC registered broker dealer and member FINRA/SIPC, (“Sofi Securities).
2) Active Investing—The Active Investing platform is owned by SoFi Securities LLC. Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
3) Digital Assets—The Digital Assets platform is owned by SoFi Digital Assets, LLC, a FinCEN registered Money Service Business.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above, including state licensure of Sofi Digital Assets, LLC, http://www.sofi.com/legal.

In our efforts to bring you the latest updates on things that might impact your financial life, we may occasionally enter the political fray, covering candidates, bills, laws and more. Please note: SoFi does not endorse or take official positions on any candidates and the bills they may be sponsoring or proposing. We may occasionally support legislation that we believe would be beneficial to our members, and will make sure to call it out when we do. Our reporting otherwise is for informational purposes only, and shouldn’t be construed as an endorsement.
Third Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.

SOIN21076

The post What Is a Clearinghouse? appeared first on SoFi.

Source: sofi.com