Protection of investors and structured products


On 15 September 2008, Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. (LBHI) filed for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11 of the US Bankruptcy Code. Subsequently, eight Lehman companies have been put into liquidation in Hong Kong. As a result of this, investors who had purchased Lehman retail investment products suffered huge losses and blamed banks or brokers for “mis-selling” Lehman “minibonds” to them.

Some investors may regard the term “minibonds” as misleading in that these investment products are not actually “bonds”, but are “structured products”. The exact mechanism and nature of these products are very complex and may not be comprehensible to ordinary citizens (especially senior citizens) unless they are seasoned investors having in-depth knowledge of the financial market.

To put it simply, these structured products were tied to LBHI’s credit risks. They were sold as a way for the company to generate revenue, and that revenue was lost during the sub-prime mortgage crisis.

When investors purchase “minibonds” at the recommendation of bank officers or brokers, very often, they only heard a brief presentation from the bank officer or broker in person, or even heard only a brief presentation over the telephone.

Some investors complained that they were told the products were “principal-protected” or “100% principal protected notes”, which were "like a time deposit". These products were sold as “a safe alternative to buying stocks” and “a low risk investment”. The investors would be entitled to the “promised annual interest”. Contrary to what the investors were led to believe, after LBHI filed for bankruptcy, the “minibonds” devalued to such an extent that the investors saw their principal investment sum vanish into thin air.

The banks and brokers, on the other hand, argued that the investors were all supplied with advertising brochures which stated very clearly that these products were not principal-protected and that they were "linked to the credits" of various companies including LBHI. The banks and brokers also argued that they provided investors with prospectuses that contained clear risk disclosures.

However, as previously stated, the mechanism and nature of these products are highly complex. Most investors would not be able to understand how they work even after reading the prospectus.