Working paper series / Johann-Wolfgang-Goethe-Universität, Institute for Law and Finance
Should hedge fund products be marketed to retail investors? : A balancing act for regulators
- In an ideal world all investment products, including hedge funds, would be marketable to all investors. In this ideal world, all investors would fully understand the nature of the products and would be able to make an informed choice whether to invest. Of course the ideal world does not exist – the retail investment market is characterised by asymmetries of information. Product providers know most about the products on offer (or at least they should do). Investment advisers often know rather less than the provider but much more than their retail customers. Providers and intermediary advisers are understandably motivated by the desire to sell their products. There is therefore a risk that investment products will be mis-sold by investment advisers or mis-bought by ill-informed investors. This asymmetry of information is dealt with in most countries through regulation. However, the regulatory response in different countries is not necessarily the same. There are various ways in which protections can be applied and it is important to understand that the cultural background and regulatory histories of countries flavours the way regulation has developed. This means (as will be explained in greater detail later) that some countries are better able than others to admit hedge funds to the retail sector. Following this Introduction, Section II looks at some key background issues. Section III then looks at some important questions raised by the retail hedge fund issue. Many of these are questions of balance. Balance lies at the heart of regulation of course – regulation must always balance the needs of investors and with market efficiency. Understanding the “retail hedge fund” question requires particular attention to balance. Section IV then looks at the UK regime and how the FSA has answered the balance question. Section V offers some international perspectives. Section VI concludes. It will be seen that there is no obviously right answer to the question whether hedge fund products should be marketed to retail investors. Each regulator in each jurisdiction needs to make up its own mind on how to deal with the various issues and balances. It is evident, however, that internationally there is a move towards a greater variety of retail funds. There is nothing wrong with that, provided the regulators and the retail customers they protect, understand sufficiently what sort of protection is, or is not, being offered in the regulatory regime.