Structured Products and the Mischief of Self-Indexing
Published in The Journal of Index Investing, Spring 2017, Vol. 7, No. 4, pp. 16-29.
In recent years, investment banks have issued structured products linked to indexes they create rather than just linking to standardized indexes from Standard & Poor's. In doing so, the issuers create additional difficulties for retail investors to understand these, sometimes complex, investments. We illustrate the potential conflicts of interest created with structured products linked to proprietary volatility indexes although the conflicts are present in other proprietary index based investments as well.
In the 1990s, investment banks switched from underwriting reverse convertibles and tracking securities issued by operating companies like Citicorp and Reynolds Metals linked to their own stock to issuing and underwriting structured products linked to unrelated publicly traded companies like Cisco Systems. This change in investment banks' role led to a dramatic proliferation of new issuances and ever more complicated payoff structures since the underwriters were no long limited to underwriting securities other companies wanted to issue. Investment banks could now issue notes in relatively small denominations linked to publicly traded companies that the brokerage firms could then sell through their retail sales force. The complexity of these notes made regulatory oversight more difficult and allowed issuers to sell structured products with very low issue date values.
How Widespread and Predictable is Stock Broker Misconduct?
Published in The Journal of Index Investing, Summer 2017, Vol. 26, Issue 2, pp. 6-25.
In this paper we reconcile widely diverging recent estimates of broker misconduct. Qureshi and Sokobin report that 1.3% of current and past brokers are associated with awards or settlements in excess of a threshold amount. Egan, Matvos, and Seru find that 7.8% of current and former brokers have financial misconduct disclosures including customer complaints, awards, and settlements.
We replicate and extend the analysis of broker misconduct in these studies. Qureshi and Sokobin arrive at their low estimate by excluding 85% of all brokers, including those brokers most likely to have engaged in misconduct. Applying Qureshi and Sokobin's restrictive definition of potential misconduct to all brokers, we find that misconduct is much more widespread.
We also evaluate Qureshi and Sokobin's claim that its BrokerCheck website provides helpful information to investors seeking to avoid bad brokers and answer the question posed by Egan, Matvos, and Seru: If BrokerCheck data can identify broker misconduct, why don't investors use that data to protect themselves? We find that BrokerCheck is worthless in its current hobbled form, but that it could easily be modified so that market forces might substantially reduce broker misconduct.