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This article is about Exchange-Traded Notes. For the article on the company with ticker ETN, see Eaton (ETN).
Exchange-Traded Notes are structured products that are issued as debt securities by banks and are based on the performance of various assets, indexes and strategies. Buying an ETN, instead of putting your money into a fund that acutally buys and holds assets, is like buying debt from the ETN issuer—much like a bond investor would. Instead of being backed by the assets that are in the investment fund like ETFs are, ETNs are simply backed by the full faith and credit of the issuer.
ETNs have maturity dates. When you hold an ETN until the maturity date, you receive a one-time payment based on the performance of the underlying asset, index or strategy. For instance, buy an ETN covering oil and the value of oil appreciates during the time of tenure, you receive a higher payment at maturity than you would if the value of oil depreciates during the same time.
Of course, it is possible to sell the ETN at any time on the open market. However, that is subject to market risk and one might end up getting the wrong end of the deal by doing so.
When held to maturity, the investor will receive a cash payment that is linked to the performance of the corresponding market index, minus fees, during the period. Holders do not receive any coupon payments during the life of the note and there is no principal protection for the investment. 
The underwriting bank promises to pay the amount reflected in the index, minus fees upon maturity. If there is any reduction of credit ratings of the bank, or if the underwriting bank goes bankrupt the value of the investment will be effected.
As debt securities, ETNs don't actually own anything they are tracking. Because the investor fee reduces the amount of return at maturity or upon redemption, if the value of the underlying decreases or does not increase significantly, the investor may receive less than the principal amount of investment at maturity or upon redemption.
c.1200 Earthen incline, edge of a river, slope, shelf, financial institution. 15c both meaning "table" (the notion is of the moneylender's exchange table), bank "bench. To put confidence in, is attested from 1884. Bank holiday is from 1871. To cry all the way to the bank was coined 1956. 
Bankrupt 1530s, from, a broken bench, moneylender's shop, bench broken, defeated, interrupted to break, So called from the habit of breaking the bench of bankrupts. 
15c rupture, the breaking (of an arm or leg), fracture, to break, to seize, rob, plunder, to tear, break.