June 18, 2024


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Futures vs. options: Understanding the key differences

Nine things to do before you trade in Futures | Explainer

When it comes to financial markets, futures and options are two popular instruments that are frequently discussed. While they share some similarities, they also have distinct characteristics.

Futures contracts represent an agreement to trade an asset at a predetermined price. They are standardised contracts traded on organised exchanges. Futures are often used by traders to speculate on price movements or to hedge against potential risks.

On the other hand, options give the holder the right, with no obligation, to trade an asset at a specific price within a particular timeframe. Options provide flexibility and can be used for various strategies, including hedging, income generation, or speculation.

Understanding these differences is crucial for those interested in trading or investing in these instruments. It allows individuals in the UK to make informed trading decisions based on their financial goals, risk tolerance, and market outlook. By delving into the intricacies of futures and options, investors can navigate the financial markets with greater confidence and maximise their potential returns.

Key differences

Here are  some of the key differences between futures and options:

Contract specifications

Futures contracts are standardised in quantity, quality, delivery date, and location. This standardisation ensures that all parties involved have a clear understanding of their rights and obligations.

On the other hand, option contracts offer more flexibility as they can be customised to meet specific needs. For instance, an investor can choose the strike price, expiration date, and option type (call or put) based on their strategy.

Obligation vs. right

When trading futures contracts, both parties are obligated to fulfil the contract at maturity. If an investor holds a long position (buying) in a futures contract, they must purchase the underlying asset on the delivery date. In contrast, a short position (selling) requires them to deliver the asset.

In contrast, options give the holder the right to buy, sell or trade an asset but not the obligation. It means that if an investor holds a call option, they can choose whether or not to use their right to buy the underlying asset at a specific price during a set timeframe. If they decide not to exercise, they will only lose the premium.

Price movement

Futures contracts have higher leverage compared to options, making them riskier. A small change in the price of an underlying asset can lead to some gains or losses. This high volatility makes futures popular among speculators and hedgers looking for potential significant returns.

Options, on the other hand, offer limited risk as the maximum loss is capped at the premium paid for the option. However, this also means options have lower leverage and potential returns than futures.


Futures contracts typically require a margin deposit from traders as collateral to cover potential losses. This amount is usually a small percentage of the contract’s total value but can vary depending on market conditions. As such, futures trading can involve substantial leverage to amplify gains and losses.

For options, investors only need to pay an upfront premium when purchasing an option contract. The premium amount is determined by strike price, expiration date, and market volatility.

Which one is right for you?

Choosing between futures and options mostly depends on individual preferences and risk appetite. For those looking for potentially higher returns and are comfortable with higher risk, futures may be a suitable option. However, this also means managing significant losses if the market moves against their expectations.

On the other hand, options offer more flexibility and limited risk but can have lower potential returns. They may be suitable for investors looking to hedge against risks or generate consistent income. It’s crucial to note that both futures and options involve complex strategies and significant risks. It is advisable to consult a reputable broker like Saxo Bank before making investment decisions.

Risks and rewards

While both futures and options present opportunities for substantial returns, they also come with risks. It’s important to understand these potential hazards before diving into these markets. Futures, with their high leverage, can lead to significant losses if the market turns. Conversely, while options limit the risk to the premium paid, their value can rapidly decrease as the expiration date approaches, especially if the underlying asset’s price is not moving in a favourable direction. 

Understanding the risk and reward dynamics can help traders and investors in the UK make more informed trading decisions when choosing between futures and options. Also, consider your risk tolerance and financial and investment objectives before entering any market. Overall, both futures and options offer unique opportunities for individuals looking to participate in financial markets, and understanding the key differences is crucial for making informed decisions. 

The last word

Futures and options are popular instruments used in financial markets for different purposes. While futures involve an obligation to trade an asset at a set price and date, options give the holder the right not to commit to trade an asset within a specific timeframe.

Understanding these key differences allows investors in the UK to make informed decisions based on their goals, risk tolerance, and market outlook. Whether for speculation or hedging against risks, both futures and options offer unique opportunities for individuals looking to participate in financial markets. However, it’s crucial to carefully consider all factors and always seek financial advice before making any investment or trading decisions.