Catering to Investors Through Product Complexity

Catering to Investors Through Product Complexity

by Boris Vallee & Claire Célérier

Executive Summary — This paper investigates the rationale for issuing complex securities to retail investors.

Author Abstract

This paper investigates the rationale for issuing complex securities to retail investors. We focus on a large market of investment products targeted exclusively at households: retail structured products in Europe. We hypothesize that banks strategically use product complexity to cater to yield-seeking households by making product returns more salient and shrouding risk. We find four empirical results consistent with this view. First, we show that structured products with complex payoff formulas offer higher headline rates, and that they more frequently expose investors to a complete loss of their investment. We then document that banks are more inclined to issue high-headline-rate and more complex products in low-rate environments. Finally, we find that high-headline-rate and more complex products are more profitable for banks, and that their ex post performance is lower.