Before writing a story on structured products, Money Post went on a shopping tour of the banks to see what was out there. We assumed they would be keen to sell the high-profit product.
How wrong we were. The banks are sceptical when people walk in off the street asking for structured products. Chalk it up to the new regulatory environment, where banks are prohibited from selling complicated investments to clients with an unknown trading record.
A visit to a few branches in Sheung Wan proved this. Hang Seng bank offered almost no brochures. The security guard at Wing Hang Bank's headquarters was amused that anyone would even ask for the product. But it was Bank of China on Des Voeux Road that was the most illuminating. A look at its literature revealed that about the only thing it was selling was insurance.
The bank was a big distributor of minibonds prior to the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy and has learned a lesson about selling complex products to inexperienced investors. Bank employees did not want to talk about any product unless I had an account with the bank. They said they could provide links to various publicly available funds - but they weren't interested in selling them.
BOCI Securities at Grand Millennium Plaza was more receptive. Perhaps the staff were confused, terrified, or simply polite. But they offered Chinese tea and a plush white leather seat to sit on, in what is best described as a cloistered room with a wide flat-screen television.
After a long wait and promises of meetings with "important" people, the secretary from the reception desk came in with a list of yuan bonds in individual companies that they were offering. No structured products, but at least they wanted to talk about investing.
She said that each required a minimum investment of US$100,000. Did she mean in Hong Kong dollars - or perhaps yuan? No, she meant US dollars. Sensing the chat was not going anywhere productive, she quickly wrapped things up, ending this journalist's brief sally into the VIP room.