Thursday, December 29, 2011

Quick Hit on Index Linked GICs

I know I said my next blog would be on fund fees however I wanted to acknowledge a great article by John Heinzl in the Globe today. It fits into the investor education debate that is ongoing.

Why the Blue Chip GIC isn’t a blue chip investment

Investor Education: I noted a great article in the G&M today by John Heinzl. For those that do not follow John, he is one of the best writers when it comes to both understanding and explaining investment products and strategies. His topic was a follow-up on one he wrote when BMO introduced its unfortunate “Blue Chip GIC” product. John felt it was a product designed to heavily favour bank profits and was highly unlikely to be a great product for the clients of BMO who were sold this product. Note John made this call a year ago!
John had explained the basics of the product and how the structure was likely to work against clients expecting a reasonable return from a product offering “guarantee of principle” but little in the way of upside returns. Not surprisingly, the GIC paid investors a paltry 0.2% for a one year term. We thank John for the follow up article as it clearly shows not just that the product was a poor performer; but more importantly it shows how predictable the poor results were. John “forecast” the performance as opposed to merely stating it after the fact. Thanks John!
For investor advocates, John’s original comments were no surprise and the performance of the GIC was equally predictable. BMO is not alone in this cynical exploiting of investors through “index linked GICs”. TD bank also pushes staff to maximize the sales of these products and rewards those who do so. So does most every other bank in Canada. The marketing pitch is to play on the fear that markets are unpredictable and that investors should try to keep their money safe. Given the losses generated by mutual funds over the past few years, one would expect that many investors are ripe for this sales pitch. The reason the pitch works is based upon a few key investor attributes:

1-      Most investors trust bank employees and do not realize that most bank employees do not understand how the actual investments work.

2-      Investors are not educated or trained to understand the full impact of the underlying terms and conditions on these complex products. What the investor hears is “GIC” and “guaranteed”. The belief is that any market gains will increase returns and any losses will be absorbed by the bank. Unfortunately that is not the case! The underlying terms were designed to minimize payouts such that even a positive average return on the underlying stocks would not necessarily generate a bonus. In effect, the game was tilted in favour of the bank.

3-      In general, the more complex the product, the larger the profit margin is for the bank. This suggests that the bank benefits from having both the staff and the client uninformed.

With the banks all pretending to support investor education, this is a practical example of why you cannot believe the basic information provided by your trusted local banker. The issue is that the employee does as they are told/trained in the belief their employer would not treat customers unfairly.
The customer in turn trusts that the local bank employee would never do anything that would treat a loyal customer unfairly. In fact, a highly paid bank executive signed off on the product because it generates much higher bank profit than a conventional GIC....period! Client investment returns or “fairness” never enters the picture for the executive. So long as it is possible to market a scenario where the client might have done better with the “linked GIC” the bankers can sleep at night without acknowledging how unlikely a positive outcome is for most clients. If a client complains the banker will simply suggest the GIC was better than if the client had actually bought the stocks and lost much of their investment capital. Of course the problem with that answer is that the client never intended to buy the underlying stock! They went to the bank to buy a simple GIC and were sold this crap instead!
Beware bankers bearing gifts!


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thank you, very good information, i was tempted to purchase this product and would have been very disapointed.