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A Guide to Structured Products vs ETFs

Have you heard of structured products? Are you curious about how they work and if they’re a worthy investment? Discover the differences between structured products and ETFs and how they can fit into your offshore investment products strategy.

In this article, we’ll define structured products and at the same time evaluate whether it would be a better investment option than exchange-traded funds (ETFs).

If you want to invest as an expat or high-net-worth individual, you can email me (advice@adamfayed.com) or use these contact options.

What are structured products?

Structured products refer to a variety of financial instruments whose value or performance is tied to another asset, product, or index. Market indexes, single or bundled stocks, bonds, commodities, currencies, and interest rates are all possible underlyings.

Because of their variety, structured products lack a single, unified mechanism for determining risk and return.

Structured products typically incorporate options, a type of derivative that gives investors the right to buy or sell an asset on a specified date and at a particular price dubbed strike price.

A call option gives the holder the right to buy the underlying asset at a defined price, while a put option gives the holder the right to sell it. To issue more manageable obligations and cover gaps left by traditional financial instruments, banks and financial institutions developed these new products.

Despite the risks and greater prices, structured products are seen as a stable income source by investors.

Issuers make money by letting investors personalize their financial products for market-optimal rates.

Structured products have several tempting advantages, including customization and higher returns, availability to regular investors and capability to replace direct investments, predetermined payoffs and maturation periods, as well as intimate ties to certain securities or a group of securities.

Leverage, loss limits, and time limits are all standard features of structured products. Furthermore, clients can choose financial or physical settlement.

After the maturity date, issuers typically pay out returns. Structured products are a sort of derivative financial instrument with a pricing model similar to those of options, swaps, forwards, and futures. If purchased and held to maturity, structured assets offer principal protection.

There is little chance of losing money because you can never lose more than what you first put in. The ability to more easily diversify their holdings is another way in which these products benefit ultra-wealthy individuals.

How did they start? History of structured products

structured products history

Structured products were first developed in the UK in the early 1990s. The tech behind them quickly spread throughout the rest of Europe soon after. Structured products expanded beyond their original purpose of allowing individual investors to gain exposure to stock market returns while protecting their investments.

Despite having its origins in Europe as the pioneering market, the Asia-Pacific region has already surpassed Europe as the most important market. Notably, in 2014, Hong Kong’s sales of structured goods alone outpaced those of the entire European market put together.

There is now a widespread availability of structured products throughout several countries in Europe, offered by major banks, insurance providers, and other institutions.

How do they work?

The ability to invest money for a certain period with the knowledge that their principal will be protected sets structured products apart as an investment class.

Each certificate-type structured instrument comes with a detailed term sheet explaining the terms and conditions of the investment vehicle. A mathematical formula called the redemption formula clarifies the system’s inner workings.

The issuer of a structured product is typically required to publish an issue prospectus detailing the instrument’s structure in great detail. Most structured goods have their values updated daily based on market conditions, product performance, and other variables. 

Exchange-traded notes (ETNs) increase liquidity in certain structured product categories. ETNs are debt products whose cash flows depend on the performance of an underlying asset. They are designed to sort of mirror ETFs, which are tradable instruments like common stocks on securities exchanges. ETNs make commodity futures and other difficult assets accessible.

What are the types of structured products?

Structured Deposits

Here, an investor buys underlying assets based on forecasts of foreign currency rates, setting a target return over a given period and a premium over the asset’s intrinsic value. Like a standard savings account, structured deposits accrue interest, but the amount earned is contingent on how well the underlying asset does in the market. This means that even while the interest rate is subject to swings, the returns it generates are stable.

Structured Capital Products

These items are distinguished from others by the fact that, upon maturity, the principal amount invested is guaranteed to have been maintained. They function similarly to loans in that they are safe investments up until the point in time at which the product is expected to mature. In the extremely unlikely event that the issuer files for bankruptcy, however, investors stand a small chance of losing their initial investments.

Structured Capital-At-Risk Products

Opportunities for the highest possible rate of return can be found in these investment vehicles; nevertheless, principal repayment is not guaranteed.  Investors run the risk of losing money in highly volatile markets. Additionally, asset performance affects return.

Although taking on more danger could potentially yield higher returns, investors are still primarily concerned with keeping their money safe.

Structured Notes

When compared to structured deposits, structured notes don’t come with any sort of built-in principal protection unless an outside party agrees to guarantee the repayment of principal should the issuer end up bankrupt.

Because there are many structured notes on the market, a simple explanation of how they work is difficult to come by. Even so, options are frequently incorporated into structured notes, with the issuer of the note acquiring or selling an option on a reference asset or security. The investor then grants the issuer the right to require the investor to purchase securities or to demand the issuance of securities.s

Benefits of Structured Products

The issuers of structured products can modify their products so that they meet the specific needs of their investors regardless of their specific financial situations. No matter the level of complexity, every structured product is expertly tailored to the individual needs of each investor.  Structured products’ adaptability allows them to be adjusted in terms of risk-return dynamics, investment amount, maturity, and strategy.

If one’s market outlook pans out and the product issuer continues to be financially stable, then investing in a structured product can increase one’s return. Structured deposits that guarantee full principal repayment at maturity might be a good alternative to savings accounts, current accounts, and term deposits.

Strike prices, or the exercise price for call or put options, are established for certain structured notes at significantly lower levels than prevailing market values, such as 90% or 95% of market value. This clever design gives investors a chance to get their initial investment back in addition to the coupon, even if the value of the underlying securities drops below the defined strike prices while still being above the starting value.

If stock prices have increased at maturity, investors will get not just their principal and coupon, but also a portion of the reference equity’s gains. When a group of equities serves as the underlying, the investor’s returns will be affected by the underperformer among them.

Risks of Structured Products

Due to its dependence on the value of its underlying asset or index, a structured product may suffer financial losses if its underlying asset or index experiences a decline in value. During the term of a structured deposit or note, investors typically cannot withdraw their main investment amount without incurring a predetermined degree of risk.

Investments in structured deposits often only offer principal protection if they are held to maturity. Investors run the very real danger of losing their whole primary investment if the issuer of the structured deposit or product defaults on its debt.

Is an ETF a structured product?

Like a mutual fund, an ETF is a type of collective investment security. It replicates the performance of a broader index, industry, commodity, or other asset class.

However, ETFs are traded like normal equities on a stock exchange in contrast to mutual funds. These investments can be designed to mirror any entity, from the price of a single commodity to the performance of a basket of securities or even an entire investing strategy.

Structured products differ from ETFs in that they are not traded like shares of stock and are not listed on stock exchanges like the latter. They have various pricing structures too.

ETFs are not structured securities like structured notes or structured derivatives, but they may resemble them. In general, ETFs are often seen as a distinct investment product.

Are structured products better investment than ETFs?

There is no special risk associated with structured products that cannot be found in other types of investments. There is safety in the market because many structured products come with capital guarantees. While some products could result in a loss of capital, traders can adjust the level of risk to suit their individual preferences.

Investment goals can be matched with the risk and return characteristics of structured products. Investors looking for tailor-made risk profiles may find a lot to enjoy in these plans, which may include methods like protecting principal or sharing in market profits.

Arguably, some structured products are notoriously difficult to understand because they involve complicated derivatives, and they are vulnerable to issuer risk because their success depends on the financial stability of the company that issued them. It’s also possible that the secondary market’s lack of liquidity will make it difficult to trade some structured assets.

ETFs provide high liquidity and convenience of trading by trading on stock exchanges and disclosing their holdings on a regular basis. The expense ratios of ETFs are often lower than those of some structured products, making them competitively priced.

However, investors in ETFs are typically not protected from losses, leaving them vulnerable to market shifts. Errors in tracking could also cause underlying indexes to deviate from their intended values.

ETFs provide wide market exposure and asset types and investing techniques notwithstanding these differences.

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Adam is an internationally recognised author on financial matters, with over 760.2 million answer views on Quora.com, a widely sold book on Amazon, and a contributor on Forbes.

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