On April 14, 2015, Luis Aguilar, Commissioner to the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”), gave a speech before the North American Securities Administrators Association (“NASAA”), stating that the SEC is looking closely at sales practices with respect complex securities. “Complex securities” refers to securities that include complex features such as imbedded derivatives. Complex securities include, but are not limited to equity-indexed annuities, leveraged and inverse-leveraged exchange traded funds, reverse convertibles, alternative mutual funds, exchange traded products, and structured notes.
The speech cited a 2012 SEC study on investor financial literacy that found that retail investors, and particularly the elderly and minorities, lack basic financial literacy skills. When you combine a general lack of financial literacy with an investment product landscape that increasingly focuses on increasing the complexity of product offerings investors are more reliant on their advisers than ever.
Accordingly these investment products can be very opaque and complex for retail investors to fully appreciate the risks involved. It was also noted that in this environment yield-starved investors become easy prey for fraudulent schemes in complex securities.