By Gabriel Chen
THE adage 'caveat emptor', or buyer beware, is often trotted out as a warning to consumers not to buy investment products about which they are not totally certain.
But this may be asking too much of the average retail bank customer as many of these products are just too difficult to understand, a leading editor said at a financial education conference on Thursday.
'We can't really expect too much of ordinary consumers,' said the Financial Times' associate editor and chief economics commentator Martin Wolf.
'And we certainly can't expect them ever to understand the financial sector's products and activities better than the professionals in the financial sector understand them.'
He was speaking to about 250 delegates from 30 countries at the Citi-FT Financial Education Summit.
The annual forum on financial literacy was held for the first time in Singapore. The two-day event concluded yesterday.
His comments come in the wake of the collapse of structured products linked to Lehman Brothers amid allegations of mis-selling by financial institutions. Many investors lost most, and in some cases, all of their savings.
Mr Samuel Ochieng, president of the global consumer advocacy group Consumers International, echoed Mr Wolf's view.
'Consumers have a part to play but regulators and governments must set their houses in order,' he said.
Said Mr Jonathan Larsen, Citi Asia Pacific's head of consumer banking and global cards: 'There is no greater imperative than to ensure financial education reaches all levels of society.'
This article was first published in The Straits Times.