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Despite declining fund use among advisors, traditional mutual fund managers, particularly large fund complexes, are poised to play a leading role in the next phase of the exchange-traded fund (ETF) revolution – the rollout of active ETFs – according to a report from Cogent Research.
The report, Advisor Brandscape, is conducted annually and is based on a survey among a nationally representative sample of over 1,700 financial advisors in the US.
In the last six years, the proportion of advisors selling ETFs has increased dramatically, from less than half (46%) of advisors in 2007 to nearly three-quarters (73%) who use them today. In that same period, advisors’ allocations to ETFs have more than doubled, from 5% in 2007 to 12% in 2013.
According to Cogent, most of the ETF gains thus far have come at the expense of mutual funds. Furthermore, for the first time ever, advisors now say they are as likely to invest new dollars in ETFs as they are to invest in mutual funds. However, as interest in active ETFs builds, it appears that traditional fund managers are well positioned to capture (or retain) a portion of future active ETF flows.
Meredith Rice, Senior Product Director and author of the report, said: “While provider preferences certainly exist in the ETF category, many advisors remain relatively agnostic when it comes to choosing ETFs, particularly those tracking broad indexes. However, the rules of engagement will change significantly when it comes to how advisors approach selecting actively managed ETFs. And that is where traditional active managers, even those late to the game, may find some real traction.”
Rice notes that factors such as the track record of the manager, the composition and expertise of the investment team, and the overall reputation of the firm weigh more heavily in advisors’ decision making when they consider active ETFs. As a result, traditional active managers who are already known and judged by these criteria today have a significant advantage, especially in cases where the new product is a “clone” of a mutual fund that already exists.
While these findings may come as good news for active managers considering entry into the ETF marketplace, a potential downside is that advisors, while they are open to paying more for actively managed ETFs, expect these products to be less expensive than their actively managed mutual fund cousins.
Rice added: “The potential pricing issues will certainly give some mutual fund companies pause. But they need to look back over the past six years of ETF history, and ask themselves if they are willing to pass on the next wave of ETFs.”
Based on public statements and regulatory filings, a number of well-known traditional fund managers are understood to be actively considering the launch of active ETFs. These include Fidelity, Alliance Bernstein, Franklin Templeton, Eaton Vance, Janus, John Hancock, JP Morgan, Legg Mason, Natixis, Dreyfus, Federated Investors, Neuberger Berman, Principal Financial, T Rowe Price, Charles Schwab and Deutsche Asset & Wealth Management. These are in addition to firms such as Pimco, Russell Investments, Swiss & Global (Julius Baer) and Colombia who have already rolled out active ETFs.