Securities trade groups on Thursday unveiled a final version of a voluntary code of conduct intended to preempt regulatory interference in the derivatives industry.
The guidelines, presented at a reception hosted by the New York Federal Reserve Bank, received a chilly reception from derivatives users groups, who dismissed the document as a thinly veiled attempt to shield derivatives traders from legal claims by dissatisfied customers.
"It appears to be a way of avoiding liability for future problems, and we're concerned that end users may not understand how this document works,"said Frank Curran, director of government relations and standards at the Treasury Management Association.
Derivatives are often-volatile financial contracts whose value is determined by interest rates, currency exchange rates, and other benchmarks. Large banks and investment houses offer the contracts to clients as tools to hedge various business risks. Banks are among the heavier users.
Derivatives became controversial last year when an unexpected upturn in interest rates reduced the value of some derivatives, sparking highly publicized lawsuits and regulatory inquiries into whether users were adequately warned of the risks.
"The Principles and Practices of Wholesale Financial Markets," drafted by members of six trade groups, should be followed as a matter of "common sense," said Gay H. Evans, a managing director with Bankers Trust International who is chairman of the International Swaps and Derivatives Association. They were put together to "reduce risk in the system," she said.
Lewis W. "Woody" Teel, a Bank of America executive vice president who is chairman of the Foreign Exchange Committee, said that the principles stressed the importance of the relationship between counterparties. He said those relationships are best conducted at arm's length.
The guidelines say that buyers should rely on investment advice only when they have specified that they are doing so in writing. "It ought to be subject to prior contractual arrangements, not by an after-the-fact ambush," said Mr. Teel.
It would be unrealistic to establish guidelines that require dealers to disclose all of the potential risks ahead of time, he added.
Some derivatives users complained that they were not included in the drafting of a code that is supposed to apply to both dealers and users.
"We should not have a set of principles imposed on us that were not developed in consultation with end users and do not represent the interests of end users," said Myra Drucker, the chairwoman of the Committee on Investment of Employee Benefit Assets.
Critics expressed concern over the role of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in developing the guidelines. Ernest T. Patrikis, first vice president of the New York Fed, said that his role was purely that of a "facilitator."
Ms. Drucker said, however, that the Fed's role "lends the appearance of more weight to these principles than if they had been developed entirely independently by any governmental agency."