Swap Execution Facility (SEF): Definition, Goal and How It Works

What Is a Swap Execution Facility (SEF)?

A Swap Execution Facility (SEF) is an electronic platform provided by a corporate entity that allows participants to buy and sell swaps in a regulated and transparent manner. They are required by law as part of the sweeping Wall Street reforms stemming from the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act.

Key Takeaways

  • Swap execution facilities (SEFs) are trading platforms intended for swaps products.
  • They are mandated under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act of 2010.
  • Because of the complex nature of swaps, these platforms are not exchanges per se but they do function as a counterparty matching service.
  • Swaps traded on SEFs fall under the oversight of both the SEC and CFTC.
  • Swaps volume has increased over the years and now dozens of entities provide SEF platforms.

Understanding Swap Execution Facility

A SEF is an electronic platform that matches counterparties in a swaps transaction. Through a mandate in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, SEFs changed the methods previously used to trade derivatives.

The Dodd-Frank Act defined a SEF as, "A facility, trading system or platform in which multiple participants have the ability to execute or trade swaps by accepting bids and offers made by other participants that are open to multiple participants in the facility or system, through any means of interstate commerce."

Before Dodd-Frank, swaps were traded exclusively in over-the-counter (OTC) markets with little transparency or oversight. The SEF allows for transparency and provides a complete record and audit trail of trades.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) regulate SEFs.

An Exchange for Swaps

A SEF is similar to a formal exchange but is a distributed group of approved trading systems. The handling of trades is similar to other exchanges. Also, the Dodd-Frank Act states if no SEF system is available for specific swaps, then the previous, OTC trading method, is acceptable.

Proponents argue that a SEF is a swaps exchange, much like a stock or futures exchange, and they are correct, to a degree. Centralized clearing of swaps and other derivatives reduces counterparty risks and increases trust and integrity in the marketplace. Also, a facility that allows for multiple bids and offers provides liquidity to the swap marketplace. This liquidity enables traders to close positions ahead of contract maturity.

Becoming a Swap Execution Facility

Many entities may apply to become a SEF. To qualify, they must meet specific thresholds as defined by the SEC, CFTC, and the Dodd-Frank Act.

Applicants must register with the SEC and meet specific requirements. Requirements include the platform's ability to display all available bids and offers, send trade acknowledgments to all involved parties, maintain a record of transactions, and provide a request for quote (RFQ) system. In addition, they must meet certain margin and capital guidelines and the ability to segregate the swap exchange. Finally, the applicant must agree to abide by the 14 SEC core principles.

An SEF can become "dormant" if it has not carried out a swap execution in more than 12 months. A dormant SEF must re-register to become active again.

How does a swap execution facility work?

Swap execution facilities (SEFs) are electronic matching platforms that bring together buyers and sellers of swaps contracts, much like any other electronic exchange. These are regulated venues that rely on a request-for-quote mechanism.

Why were swap execution facilities created?

Swap execution facilities were created under the 2010 Dodd-Frank act to better regulate and increase transparency for swaps deals, both before and after the trade.

Who must register with an SEF?

According to the CFTC, "any person who offers a trading system or platform in which more than one market participant has the ability to execute or trade swaps with more than one other market participant on the system or platform must apply to the Commission to register as a SEF."

Are swaps required to be transacted through a swap execution facility?

While many swaps now must be traded on a SEF, financial institutions can still transact certain swaps over-the-counter (OTC) directly between one another. But, swap trades that are eligible to be cleared must use a SEF.

Article Sources
Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
  1. FIA. "Comparison Table." Accessed Jan. 12, 2022.

  2. FIA. "Monthly Volume." Accessed Jan. 12, 2022.

  3. CFTC. "Swaps Execution Facilities (SEFs)." Accessed Jan. 12, 2022.

  4. Nasdaq. "SEFs Must Defend Against Market Abuse." Accessed Jan. 12, 2022.

  5. Lynn Riggs, Esen Onur, David Reiffen, Haoxiang Zhu. "Swap Trading after Dodd-Frank: Evidence from Index CDS," Journal of Financial Economics Volume 137, Issue 3, September 2020, Pages 857-886. Accessed Jan. 12, 2022.

  6. The Securities and Exchange Commission. "Derivatives." Accessed Jan. 12, 2022.

  7. The Securities and Exchange Commission. "SEC Proposes Rules for Security-Based Swap Execution Facilities." Accessed Jan. 12, 2022.

  8. Office of the Law Revision Counsel United States Code. "15 USC 78c-4: Security-Based Swap Execution Facilities." Accessed Jan. 12, 2022.

  9. Federal Register. "Swap Execution Facility Requirements." Accessed Jan. 12, 2022.

Take the Next Step to Invest
The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Investopedia receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where listings appear. Investopedia does not include all offers available in the marketplace.