The average defined contribution investment-only (DCIO) provider’s assets under management (AUM) rose 30% over the 12 months leading up to June 30, aided by market gains of around 10% in just the first half of 2021, according to a new Sway Research survey.
The analysis is based on surveys and interviews with 21 DCIO sales leaders and defined contribution (DC) plan intermediaries. It shows that not all the AUM growth is the result of increasing stock prices, as two-thirds of the managers captured positive net sales during the first half of this year—a marked improvement over full-year 2020, when seven in 10 managers experienced net redemptions from DCIO assets.
This run of asset growth and improved net sales has the DCIO market projected to reach $6 trillion of assets by year-end 2021 and nearly $8 trillion by the end of 2025. Sway estimates DCIO assets will reach 60% of the total DC market at year-end 2025, up from nearly 57% this year. Similar projections are included in the 2021 PLANADVISER DCIO Survey, which was released in June.
Fueled by a demand for lower-cost vehicles, the firm says DCIO assets invested in collective investment trusts (CITs) will surpass $2 trillion of AUM during 2021. There has been a significant shift in DCIO assets, with mutual funds possessing a 39% market share and CITs reaching 34%. At year-end 2018, mutual funds controlled an estimated 45% of DCIO assets, compared with just 28% for CITs. If CIT usage continues to surge, Sway expects these products will overtake mutual funds in DCIO asset share by the end of 2025.
Most of the growth in CIT usage is coming in large and mega DC plans—those with more than $50 million in assets. Small and midsize plan markets, where Sway’s survey is focused, remain more concentrated in mutual fund vehicles, but CITs are seeing increased use among advisers, as roughly one in three plans served by these intermediaries features CITs (not including stable value options).
Usage in smaller plans is mostly driven by the need to bring down expenses, the report adds. One-third of specialist DC plan advisers indicated that squeezing costs out of plans to enhance plan retention and/or new sales is a very or extremely important business goal, while another one-third indicated this is somewhat important to their current strategy.
The research indicates active strategy managers may not see this as good news for DCIOs. Two-thirds of asset managers surveyed this year indicated earning less revenue on assets in CITs than mutual funds. Most say the difference is slight, however, while nearly one in five indicates the drop in profit margin is 10% or more.
When asked to indicate the share of DCIO sales currently generated in products using environmental, social and governance (ESG) screens and managed account solutions, few DCIOs believe either product type is making a major impact—though these sales can be difficult to track. While ESG investing is seeing increasing usage among plan advisers, with about three in five plan specialists now using ESG products in DC plans, only about one in five of these DC plan-focused advisers surveyed use managed accounts as a qualified default investment alternative (QDIA), which is most commonly a target-date series.
Overall, many DCIO executives remain optimistic that the customization allowed by managed accounts will eventually win out, with these products grabbing additional market share and driving greater sales in the years ahead.
“Portfolios designed to meet ESG screens and managed account solutions will grow in importance as participants take a more active role in determining how their dollars are invested,” writes Chris Brown, Sway Research founder and principal, in the report. “But, as with all enhancements to retirement plan menus, success will be achieved via a combination of compelling returns and, most importantly, competitive fees. Without attractive fees, few plan sponsors will take a chance on these plan enhancements. And building and maintaining products with these two key attributes is never as easy as it seems.”