Financial markets are, by nature, extremely volatile and hence the risk factor is an important concern for financial agents. To reduce this risk, the concept of derivatives comes into the picture. Derivatives are products whose values are derived from one or more basic variables called bases. These bases can be underlying assets (for example forex, equity, etc), bases or reference rates. For example, wheat farmers may wish to sell their harvest at a future date to eliminate the risk of a change in prices by that date. The transaction in this case would be the derivative, while the spot price of wheat would be the underlying asset.
Derivatives have probably been around for as long as people have been trading with one another. Forward contracting dates back at least to the 12th century, and may well have been around before then. Merchants entered into contracts with one another for future delivery of specified amount of commodities at specified price. A primary motivation for pre-arranging a buyer or seller for a stock of commodities in early forward contracts was to lessen the possibility that large swings would inhibit marketing the commodity after a harvest.