Bilateral Netting

Updated on April 26, 2024
Article byGayatri Ailani
Edited byRashmi Kulkarni
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

What Is Bilateral Netting?

Bilateral Netting is a sophisticated financial technique where two parties protect their financial interests by combining their swap agreements to form a master agreement and offsetting relevant receipts and payments against each other. This simplifies settlements, reduces costs, and lowers credit risk for both parties, leading to hassle-free transaction processing.

What Is Bilateral Netting

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It optimizes swap management by consolidating agreements into a single master contract. This eliminates unnecessary payment streams, minimizing transaction costs and administrative troubles. Furthermore, it mitigates credit risk for both parties by netting out opposing positions, enhancing financial stability and market confidence. Though this method is widely used to streamline payments through swap agreements, it can also be applied to other financial instruments.

Key Takeaways

  • Bilateral netting refers to a situation where parties to a contract combine swap deals and turn it into a single deal, creating a single net payment stream instead of many individual ones.
  • It helps simplify operations and mitigates risks for parties to these contracts while promoting stability and efficiency in financial markets.
  • It offers a focused solution for individual agreements, while multilateral netting provides a broader network-based approach to risk mitigation and settlement efficiency.
  • Bilateral netting in financial transactions offers parties reduced credit risk, lower operational costs, and more efficient capital usage by matching up obligations between them, resulting in a single net amount being marked due for processing.

Bilateral Netting Explained

Bilateral Netting, a cornerstone of financial markets, offers a potent combination of operational efficiency and risk mitigation. By consolidating multiple swap agreements between two counterparties into a single master agreement, it dramatically reduces the number of individual transactions, streamlining settlements and minimizing associated costs. This translates to lower administrative overheads, reduced fees, and a more streamlined workflow.

However, the true power of netting lies in its ability to manage risk. In the unfortunate event of one party’s bankruptcy, netting safeguards both sides from selective payment defaults. Instead of cherry-picking profitable swaps, the bankrupt company can only collect on in-the-money swaps after settling all out-of-the-money obligations. This ensures a fair and balanced outcome, protecting both parties from significant financial losses.

The benefits of such netting extend beyond bankruptcy scenarios. By netting out opposing positions, it reduces overall credit exposure and promotes financial stability within the market. This enhanced confidence fosters increased liquidity and facilitates smoother trading activity.

In essence, bilateral netting is a powerful tool that revolutionizes swap management, offering a delicate balance of operational efficiency and risk mitigation. Its widespread adoption underpins the stability and resilience of modern financial markets.

Since the mitigation of counterparty credit risks is a major advantage of using this method, it can be applied to settle payments in financial markets using different financial instruments. For instance, options, forwards, and futures can be settled via bilateral netting.

Bilateral netting protects the financial interests of all the parties involved in a contract. It streamlines operations, reduces costs, and, most importantly, safeguards against the risks inherent in complex financial contracts. It ensures efficiency and stability, underpinning the smooth functioning of modern financial markets.


Let us study some examples to understand the concept better.

Example #1

Suppose investment banks, Cloud Coin Bank and FinLight Bank, frequently engage in swap agreements to manage their respective interest rate exposures. Over time, multiple individual contracts emerge, creating several complex obligations and corresponding settlements.

The banks decided to employ the bilateral netting system. Cloud Coin Bank and FinLight Bank agree to consolidate all their outstanding swaps into a single master agreement. This agreement nets out opposing positions, meaning in-the-money swaps for one party automatically offset out-of-the-money swaps for the other.

With this, a dramatic reduction in individual transactions is seen. Instead of settling each swap separately, Cloud Coin Bank makes a single net payment to FinLight Bank, reflecting the overall difference in their positions. This streamlined process cuts administrative costs, reduces paperwork, and improves operational efficiency for both parties.

Besides convenience, bilateral netting promotes risk mitigation. Assume FinLight Bank faces financial distress. Without netting, FinLight Bank could cherry-pick profitable swaps, leaving Cloud Coin Bank exposed to significant losses. However, with netting in place, FinLight Bank can only collect on its in-the-money swaps after settling all its out-of-the-money obligations to Cloud Coin Bank. This ensures a fair and balanced outcome, protecting both parties from potential losses due to a counterparty’s financial distress.

Example #2

Suppose two manufacturing giants, Acme Steel and BoltCo, are both facing rising interest rates. Acme, with hefty fixed-rate loans, worries about increasing costs. BoltCo, with floating-rate debt, fears a drop in profitability as rates climb. To hedge their bets, they enter into a series of interest rate swaps.

Acme agrees to pay BoltCo a fixed rate of 5% in exchange for a floating rate tied to the LIBOR. BoltCo, in turn, pays Acme a fixed rate of 7% for a floating LIBOR rate. Over time, several such swaps accumulate, creating a tangle of individual contracts.

This is where bilateral netting helps. Acme and BoltCo decide to consolidate all their outstanding swaps into a single master agreement. The agreement nets out their opposing positions, meaning:

  • Acme’s 5% fixed-rate payments offset BoltCo’s 7% fixed-rate payments.
  • Both companies’ floating LIBOR payments cancel each other out.

Instead of multiple individual settlements, Acme simply pays BoltCo the difference between their fixed-rate payments, effectively a net payment of 2%. This significantly reduces transaction costs and administrative hassles for both companies.

If BoltCo faces financial difficulties, they could choose not to honor their out-of-the-money swaps (where LIBOR is lower than 7%) in the absence of netting, leaving Acme exposed. However, with netting, BoltCo can only collect their in-the-money swaps (where LIBOR is higher than 7%) after settling all their out-of-the-money obligations to Acme. This protects both parties, ensuring a fair settlement even in the face of financial hardship.

Example #3

A December 2021 article explains how bilateral netting works when two financial institutions plan to settle payments, keeping the settlement risk to a minimum. Wells Fargo & Company and HSBC Bank PLC settle their foreign exchange transactions through a netting system powered by blockchain technology.

All matched foreign exchange transactions pertaining to multiple cross-border payments between these entities are settled in this manner. The objective is to boost settlement speed, efficiency, timeliness, and accuracy.

These organizations have agreed upon a settlement strategy, which allows them to handle and process bilateral financial obligations during the day without additional intervention. In this way, the two financial institutions are able to leverage each other’s strengths in various markets and grow their businesses.


Bilateral netting in financial transactions offers several benefits. They have been discussed below.

  • Risk Reduction: It minimizes credit risk by offsetting obligations between parties, reducing the exposure to potential losses in case of default. Risks associated with counterparty default, settlement, and delivery are considerably reduced.
  • Capital Efficiency: It optimizes capital usage by allowing firms to calculate their obligations on a net basis, requiring less capital to cover transactions. Companies can continue to go about their business activities without pumping in more capital.
  • Liquidity Management: It helps in managing liquidity efficiently by consolidating multiple transactions into a single net position, reducing the need for excessive funds to be tied up in transactions.
  • Transaction Cost Reduction: Bilateral netting contracts enable entities with high transaction volumes to deal with multiple transactions at once, reducing their transaction costs through fewer settlements than those seen in the regular course of business.
  • Operational Efficiency: It streamlines operations by simplifying the number of transactions, reducing administrative workload, and lowering operational costs (staff, IT equipment, software systems, etc.).
  • Regulatory Compliance: It can facilitate compliance with regulatory requirements, especially capital and risk management guidelines, by offering a clearer view of exposures and obligations.

Difference Between Bilateral And Multilateral Netting

The differences between bilateral and multilateral netting are listed in the table below. 

Key PointsBilateral NettingMultilateral Netting
ScopeIt is restricted to two counterparties, offering a targeted approach for streamlining individual contracts.It encompasses multiple counterparties within a centralized pool, facilitating efficient settlements across a network.
Requirements for executionIt requires only mutual agreement, minimizing the need for complex infrastructure or third-party involvement.It requires a robust clearing house or exchange to manage the pool and track net positions.
RelevanceThis involves dealing with a single specific entity acting as a counterparty.This involves dealing with several entities until settlements take place.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is bilateral netting of Qualified Financial Contracts (QFCs)?

Bilateral netting of Qualified Financial Contracts (QFCs) is a specific type of agreement that streamlines settlements and mitigates risk for two parties involved in QFC transactions. QFCs generally include foreign exchange transactions, derivatives contracts, etc.

What are the limitations of bilateral netting contracts?

These contracts allow only two parties to settle, nullify, or offset their payment obligations with each other. If the number of parties increases, this settlement system will not work. For the security of each party, the netting contract must be rock solid. If it is not, counterparty and credit risks may not be resolved. These contracts may require comprehensive risk management practices based on which party faces more exposure.

How is technology bringing about a difference in bilateral netting?

Blockchain, real-time data management systems, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are some of the tech-driven advancements making a difference in bilateral netting in Over-the-Counter (OTC) markets. Technology is known to enhance the accuracy, traceability, and effectiveness of transactions in these markets.

This article has been a guide to what is Bilateral Netting. We explain the concept along with its examples, differences with multilateral netting, and benefits. You may also find some useful articles here –

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