Most OTC derivatives are highly standardized, heavily traded products that are more fairly described as unfamiliar than complex. Nonetheless, a small corner of the market comprised of customized, or bespoke, trades has captured the imagination of both the public and the press. The descriptions put forth to date muddle the scale of the market, purportedly in the hundreds of trillions of dollars, with words like "complex" and "arcane," all to convey a sense of simultaneous condemnation -- the result of some vague concept of inherent mischief -- and unholy admiration for the wizards who put these "black boxes" together. In an effort to tone down the more florid descriptions of bespoke trades, what follows is introduction to the market conditions that cause certain market participants to prefer bespoke trades to more standardized alternatives.
All financial agreements involve mutual promises to deliver assets and/or cash. But some financial agreements limit the scope of assets that can be drawn upon under the agreement. That is, each party has only limited rights to the assets and/or cash flows of the other. For example, assume that A wants to enter into an interest rate swap simultaneously with the issuance of floating rate bonds. For simplicity's sake, we will assume that (i) the swap in question is a vanilla fixed for floating rate swap where A pays a fixed rate to A's counterparty, swap dealer D, and D pays the floating rate on the bonds to A and (ii) the payment dates on the swap are the same as the payment dates on the bonds. This arrangement allows A to pay the bondholders a floating rate, but still manage its interest rate risk by having its payments under the bonds and the swap net out to an effective fixed rate.