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What is a 'Counterparty'

A counterparty is the other party that participates in a financial transaction, and every transaction must have a counterparty in order for the transaction to go through. More specifically, every buyer of an asset must be paired up with a seller who is willing to sell and vice versa.

All trades require some sort of counterparty, so for example, the counterparty to an option buyer would be an option writer.

BREAKING DOWN 'Counterparty'

One of the risks involved in any transaction is counterparty risk, which is the risk that the counterparty will be unable to fulfill his duties. However, in many financial transactions, the counterparty is unknown.

The term counterparty can refer to any entity on the other side of a financial transaction. This can include deals between individuals, businesses, governments or any other organization. Additionally, both parties do not have to be on equal standing in regards to the type of entities involved. This means an individual can be a counterparty to a business and vice versa. In any instances where a general contract is met or an exchange agreement takes place, one party would be considered the counterparty, or the parties are counterparties to each other.

Counterparties in Financial Transactions

All financial transactions involving at least two parties has a counterparty. In the case of a purchase of goods from a retail store, the buyer and retailer are counterparties in the transaction. In terms of financial markets, the bond seller and investor are counterparties.

In certain situations, multiple counterparties may exist as a transaction progresses. Each exchange of funds, goods or services in order to complete a transaction can be considered as a series of counterparties. For example, if a buyer purchases a retail product online to be shipped to his home, the buyer and retailer are counterparties, as are the buyer and the delivery service.

In a general sense, any time one party supplies funds, or items of value, in exchange for something from a second party, counterparties exist. Counterparties reflect the dual-sided nature of transactions.

Counterparty Risk

In dealings with a counterparty, there is innate risk that one of the people or entities involved will not fulfill their obligation. Examples of this include the risk that a vendor will not provide a good or service after the payment is processed or that a buyer will not pay an obligation if the goods are provided first. It can also include the risk that one party will back out of the deal prior to the transaction occurring but after an initial agreement is reached.

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