Counterparts and Confirmations - ISDA Provision
2002 ISDA Master Agreement
Section 9(e) in a Nutshell™
Use at your own risk, campers!
Full text of Section 9(e)
Related agreements and comparisons
Content and comparisons
But for some finnickering around at the margin — allowing Confirmations to be exchanged by telex, fax or email; that kind of thing — the 2002 ISDA is substantially the same as for the 1992 ISDA
In which the ISDA Master Agreement deals with the pointless topic of counterparts, and the workaday one of Confirmations.
Section 9(e)(i) Counterparts
There is an impassioned essay about the idiocy of counterparts clauses elsewhere. For now, just know this:
Black’s Law Dictionary has the following to say on counterparts:
- “Where an instrument of conveyance, as a lease, is executed in parts, that is, by having several copies or duplicates made and interchangeably executed, that which is executed by the grantor is usually called the “original,” and the rest are “counterparts;” although, where all the parties execute every part, this renders them all originals.”
Sometimes it is important that more than one copy of a document is recognised as an “original” — for tax purposes, for example, or where “the agreement” must be formally lodged with a land registry. But these cases, involving the conveyance of real estate, are rare — non-existent, indeed, when the field you are ploughing overflows with flowering ISDA Master Agreements, confidentiality agreements and so on. If yours does — and if you are still reading, I can only assume it does, or you are otherwise at some kind of low psychological ebb — a “counterparts” clause is as useful to you as a chocolate tea-pot.
Indeed: even for land lawyers, all it does is sort out which, of a scrum of identical documents signed by different people, is the “original”. This is doubtless important if you are registering leases in land registries, or whatever other grim minutiae land lawyers care about — we banking lawyers have our own grim minutiae to obsess about, so you should forgive us for not giving a tinker’s cuss about yours, die Landadler. 
ANYWAY — if your area of legal speciality doesn’t care which of your contracts is the “original” — and seeing as, Q.E.D., they’re identical, why should it? — a counterparts clause is a waste of trees. If the law decrees everyone has to sign the same physical bit of paper (and no legal proposition to our knowledge does, but let’s just say), a clause on that bit of paper saying that they don’t have to, is hardly going to help.
Mark it, nuncle: there is a chicken-and-egg problem here; a temporal paradox — and you know how the JC loves those. For if your contract could only be executed on several pieces of paper if the parties agreed that, then wouldn’t you need them all to sign an agreement, saying just that, on the same piece of paper? And since, to get that agreement, they will have to sign the same piece of paper, why don’t you just have done with it and have them all sign the same copy of the blessèd contract, while you are at it?
But was there ever a logical cul-de-sac so neat, so compelling, that it stopped a legal eagle insisting on stating it anyway, on pain of cratering the trade? There are little eaglets to feed, my friends.
Section 9(e)(ii) Confirmations
Trade versus confirmation: celebrity death-match
If a trader agrees one thing, and the confirmation the parties subsequently sign says another, which gives? A 15 second dealing-floor exchange on a crackly taped line, or the carefully-wrought ten page, counterpart-executed legal epistle that follows it?
TL;DR: The original oral trade prevails.
The confirmation is evidence of the transaction, but it does not override the original transaction terms, if they are different.
That is, the binding trade may be a phone call or a bloomberg chat. (This sits kind of uneasily with that Entire Agreement clause, but still.)
If there is a dispute about the terms of your confirmation, you are going to have to pull the tapes.
There are some very good reasons for this. Firstly, the original trade was done by the trader with the trading mandate. The confirmation will be punted out by some dude in ops who might not be able to read the trader’s handwriting. Ops can and will get things wrong. That is correctable on the record. The trader doesn’t “get things wrong”. If she does, you’re into mistake territory. The law on contractual mistakes is beloved by students of the law and misunderstood by everyone else. But, generally, if the trader erroneously executes a trade, and the trader’s counterparty understands it correctly, the trader, and the firm she works for, will be bound by the error. That’s not a contractual mistake. It’s just a bad trade.
By contrast, a settlements and reconciliations dude who sends out a confirm which carelessly misinterprets the trade log is not making a contractual mistake: he is incorrectly recording the contract. That wasn’t the trade (good or bad) that the trader did.
Similarly, the reconciliations dude who sends out a confirm which corrects an error made by the trader has no mandate to make that change. The error is the trader’s. The trader should live with it, and throw herself at the mercy of the jurisprudence of contractual mistakes if need be: it is not for said reconciliations dude to pull her out of a hole.
Dare we mention ... email?
Note also the addition of e-mail as a means of communication to the 2002 ISDA (email not really having been a “thing” in 1992). This caused all kinds of fear and loathing among the judiciary, when asked about it, as can be seen in the frightful case of Greenclose v National Westminster Bank plc.Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.
Timely confirmation regulations and deemed consent
Both EMIR and Dodd Frank have timely confirmation requirements obliging parties to have confirmed their scratchy tape recordings within a short period (around 3 days). This fell out of a huge backlog in confirming structured credit derivatives trades following the Lehman collapse.
Roger Moore indahouse
Lastly, a rare opportunity to praise those maestros of legal word-wrangelry, ISDA’s crack drafting squad™. In Section 9(e)(ii), they contemplate that one might agree a Transaction “orally or otherwise”. This is a smidgen wider than the usual legal eagle formulation of orally or in writing. It shows that while the swaps whizzes were conservative about how to close out a Transaction, when putting one on you are constrained only by the bounds of your imagination and the limits of interpersonal ambiguity: not just written words, nor even oral ones, but the whole panoply of possible human communications: semaphore, naval flags, Morse code, waggled eyebrows, embarrassed smiles and any other kinds of physical gesture.
- ↑ In the counterparts article, as a matter of fact.
- ↑ The JC has great friends in the land law game, back home in New Zealand, and he doesn’t want to upset them — not that they are the easily upset types.