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How to create your own cheap, simple and secure Guaranteed Equity Bond

The post gives you the tools to make your own Guaranteed Equity Bond

I believe the simplest way to start investing is with a cheap and easy mix of cash and an index tracker.

Banks and financial advisers prefer to sell more exotic products, such as Guaranteed Equity Bonds.

You’ll have seen the adverts:

Invest in the Filchet and Philander Guaranteed Equity Bond Issue Mark 4! Your capital is not at risk (unless the stock market drops by 32.5% between August 13th 2012 and January 22nd 2014) and after five years you’ll get 33% of the gain in the FTSE 100 index (unless it’s up over 75%, in which case you’ll get the 2/3 of any gain over 21% plus half the number you first thought of). You can cash in your bond-thingie at any time, provided it’s a third Friday of either April or October on every odd year from the day you bought the bond.

I exaggerate, but you get the picture. I don’t like these guaranteed equity bonds (GEBs) for many reasons:

  • They’re opaque – The average person doesn’t know how they work, or why.
  • They’re a lie – ‘Guaranteed’, ‘equity’, and ‘bond’: Words chosen to reassure widows and the guardians of orphans, but these products are actually constructed out of derivatives and options! Hence the weird hurdles like ‘the FTSE must be over 5223 on such a day’, as well as extra counter-party risks.
  • They’re confusing – While some of these so-called bonds may offer a good balance of risk versus reward, they’re invariably sold to people who couldn’t tell. In fact, I’ve never met a guaranteed equity bond owner who can explain to me what they’ll get under what circumstances.
  • They’re expensive – Not just in terms of the gains you give up for potential security of capital (which may be fair enough) but also the hidden fees rolled into their arcane structure.
  • They’re inherently flawed – Most give you a return based on the value of the stock market on some particular day, or if you’re lucky over the average of a few months. But stock markets are volatile, so ill-suited to this. Buying a product where the return is dependent on the level of the index over a few days in five years time is like choosing a spouse based on what you think you’ll get for Valentine’s Day in 2017. You might have five good years followed by a week long crash, yet still be forced to cash out.

People are drawn to these bonds, though, and it’d be arrogant of me to dismiss that. The urge for capital protection is strong, rightly or wrongly.

And when it’s money someone may get just once in his or her lifetime – perhaps an inheritance, or a redundancy payout – who am I to tell them they should be braver with the stock market?

Instead, I’ll tell you a neat way to get capital protection, while still getting the chance to make money from a rising stock market.

How to roll your own Guaranteed Equity Bond

What I’m going to suggest isn’t rocket science.

Guaranteed equity bonds promise to return the sum of money you put into them (ignoring inflation). But you can use cash savings and a stock market tracker fund – plus a calculator – to create the equivalent of a guaranteed equity bond, provided you’re not investing vast amounts of money.1

Your DIY guaranteed equity bond consists of two parts:

Part A: Sufficient cash in a fixed rate savings ISA

This is the component that guarantees you get your capital back. Out of your lump sum investment, you put enough cash into the ISA so that when the compound interest is rolled up you’re left with the same lump sum that you started with.

Part B: Invest the rest in an index fund

The money left over goes into a stock market index fund. Whatever the stock market does over the period, that’s your return on your lump sum.

A worked example

Let’s say you have £5,000 to invest for five years. The two steps are:

  • Part A – Work out how much of the £5,000 to save as cash
  • Part B – Invest whatever is leftover from that in the stock market

Part A: The cash component

Suppose the best five-year fixed ISA savings rate you can find pays 5%.

You can either use maths to work out how much you’ll need to put aside in cash to ensure you have £5,000 left at the end, or you can do what I’d do and simply play with the Monevator compound interest calculator to find the right amount by guesswork:

In this example, the number of years is “5”, the amount added each year is “0”, and the interest rate is “5”. Put your guesses into ‘Initial Amount’ until the Result is £5,000. (If Result is more than £5K, lower the initial amount, and if it’s less than £5K, raise it until it’s as close as can be).

Through trial and error you should soon find that an initial sum of £3,918 saved at 5% will give you £5,000 (and 14p) in five years time.

That is your part A. You put £3,918 into the ISA and let it compound for five years, and get your £5,000 back in five years time.

Part B: Investing the rest in a tracker fund

The leftover money that you don’t need to save as cash – £1,082 in this example – goes into part B, a stock market index fund.

You want to choose the cheapest index fund you can find to keep costs ultra-low. Your best bet as I write would probably be the HSBC All-Share Index Fund, which has no initial fee and charges just 0.27% a year.

Choose the accumulation option so you automatically reinvest the 3% or so in dividends you’re due back into the fund each year.

Returns from the DIY pseudo-GEB

Here’s a few examples of how your returns could pan out, depending on how the stock market performs over the five-year period.

Market return* after five years: -30% 0% 30% 50% 100%
Cash component after five years £5,000 £5,000 £5,000 £5,000 £5,000
Equity component after five years £757 £1,082 £1,407 £1,623 £2,164
Your returns:
Total value of your DIY ‘bond’ £5,757 £6,082 £6,407 £6,623 £7,164
Gain** on your initial £5,000 15% 21.5% 28.5% 32.5% 43.5%

* The index rise or fall plus your reinvested annual dividends. **Return to the nearest 0.5%

  • From looking at the table, you can see in my worst case scenario, where the market is 30% down after five years, you still make a gain on your lump sum.
  • In fact, if the market was completely wiped out and your index fund went to zero, you’d still get your £5,000 back (assuming banks were still standing!)
  • On the other hand, when the stock market (plus dividends) doubles, you make less than half that rise with a 43.5% gain. The cash is a drag on your returns.

This latter point illustrates the price of security. In fact, you need your index fund to make at least 30% over five years for your returns to be better than leaving all your money in cash.2

But at least this way you do get exposure to potential big gains in the stock market, without risking a nominal loss.

Benefits of this ‘DIY’ Guaranteed Equity Bond

I’m not claiming this cash-and-index combo will deliver better returns than every GEB going. That’s not why I’m suggesting it here.

Rather, I’m putting it forward for the following advantages:

  • Simple to understand – Everyone knows what a cash savings account is, and an index tracker fund is as simple as stock market investing gets.
  • Cheap – Savings accounts are free, and tracker funds are the cheapest way to invest in a diversified basket of shares.
  • Transparent – You can see exactly how much money you’ve got at any time. There’s no hurdles or precipices – if the market drops your fund will go down, and vice-versa.
  • You’re in control – You don’t have to sell out of your tracker fund after exactly five years if the market is in a slump. You can wait for a better opportunity. Equally, if the market goes up very quickly in the first year or two then you can take some money off the table if you choose. You get nothing like this hands-on choice with a standard GEB.

I’ll have more thoughts on this DIY guaranteed equity bond in part two, such as how you can modify it to take slightly more risk for more reward. I’ve closed comments for this article, so we can have all the discussion about the pros and cons in one place when the piece is concluded.

  1. The size limit comes about because we need tax-free returns from the cash to make the maths work, so the cash component must be under the £5,100 cash ISA limit. []
  2. £5,000 in cash at 5% for five years would be worth £6,381. []
{ 10 comments… add one }
  • 1 Steven J Fromm May 11, 2013, 4:25 pm

    Very interesting perspective and strategy. Never liked or felt comfortable with bonds but as I get older the more I am being told they are essential to minimize risk. Not so sure that I buy into that especially with interest rates so low all over the world. Thanks for your perspective from across the pond.

  • 2 gadgetmind October 31, 2013, 8:05 pm

    Now run the figures again with late 2013 interest rates. 🙂

  • 3 The Investor November 1, 2013, 1:33 pm

    @gadgetmind — Indeed, as I said in the risk piece that I suspect brought you here, much harder nowadays. However the principle still stands. Moreover while the underlying mechanisms used are different, it’s likely the promises from structured bond products have been dialed down over the past few years, too. (I’ve just eaten, so can’t face wading through their small print to find out. 😉 )

    You could still do something similar (albeit much riskier) with a portfolio of retail bonds or even preference shares. Or a mild version with a ten-year gilt. And soon enough rates will rise anyway.

    My point is really not the specifics, but to understand there are different ways to get a similar result, with more visible risks/rewards, as opposed giving 2-5% a year to a bank for a product you don’t really understand. 🙂

  • 4 gadgetmind November 1, 2013, 1:41 pm

    I’d certainly never touch a structured product but had mused on creating one with a savings account and a call option. However, this introduces counter-party risk which the approach described above doesn’t.

  • 5 Berkshire Pat November 11, 2019, 1:56 pm

    November 1, 2013, 1:33 pm
    “And soon enough rates will rise anyway.”

    Six years later. Fingers drumming on table. Waiting. 🙂

  • 6 The Investor November 11, 2019, 4:09 pm

    @Berkshire Pat — Indeed, my crystal ball was as faulty as everyone else’s. 🙂 This is why “sooner or later” is the pundit’s best friend! 😉

  • 7 Berkshire Pat November 13, 2019, 4:32 pm

    Interesting article – I think it was the one which led me to Monevator originally (my ‘home’ was the Motley Fool (UK) back then, now LemonFool since the Great Expulsion )

    I may rerun with current rates for fun -(best for 5 years is circa 2% I think)

  • 8 Koala November 17, 2019, 5:13 pm

    Interesting article and a really simple alternative to the bonds vs equity debate, especially if the cash part is less than the FCS limit. I’ve been slightly burnt with bonds recently for my pension (where I chose my fund allocation to be 40% in index-linked gilts), which has dropped quite significantly recently.
    Three thoughts I had from reading the article, and would welcome any comments, are:
    1) it’s presumably almost impossible for an index fund (e.g. FTSE100, S&P500 or Global Index tracker) to go to zero, so perhaps a more realistic ‘worst-case’ scenario would be to aim to still get your initial investment back for a -30% drawdown rather than the equity reducing to zero.
    2) In case a -30% drawdown were to occur, I think most of us would wait a year or so for the recovery, so even the -30% figure I suggested in 1) is overly conservative. Investor’s shouldn’t ever plan to need to cash-out their equity at short notice.
    3) the effects of inflation should also be considered – presently the 5-year interest rate on cash is around the same as inflation (give or take). Still it’s better to do something like this than keep it in your current account!

  • 9 ChrisF August 21, 2021, 10:11 am

    I’m 8 years late to this discussion, but reading a couple of comments here it strikes me that people are confusing these products with the fixed income instruments of the same name. Would it be fair to say that an “investment bond” is nothing like a corporate bond or a treasury ? The first one is just a fancy wrapper around some stocks and possibly some other fancy stuff, while the other is essentially just an IOU note. A portfolio of corporate and treasury bonds can indeed function as a good diversifier, but a portfolio of “investment bonds” most definitely will not !

  • 10 The Investor August 21, 2021, 11:46 am

    @ChrisF — Absolutely. 🙂

    There’s a reason the providers used to call these products “bonds”, and that reason was because it confused people, not because they were bonds! That’s the financial services industry for you, especially in those older days…

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