Swift ETF Product Development Continues

Rapid growth in exchange-traded fund assets is causing significant change at asset management firms, including many managers serving retirement plan markets.

A new report from Cerulli Associates finds asset managers are seeking a variety of approaches to offer new exchange-traded fund (ETF) products, such as using their firms’ existing infrastructure capabilities to repackage existing strategies as ETFs or acquiring existing ETF boutiques that have the necessary distribution already in place.

The result for investors will be greater opportunity and flexibility in choosing ETFs, Cerulli finds, though a larger menu of choices can make decisionmaking difficult. The report shows the U.S. ETF market breached the $2 trillion mark in December 2014—nearly doubling its assets under management in just four years. With such strong growth for ETFs, Cerulli says it should be no surprise that ETF innovation continues. The rapid product evolution puts the onus on retirement plan sponsors and fiduciary advisers to determine whether their participants could be better served by emerging strategies over legacy products. 

“Managers are looking at both active and passive ETF strategies as an alternate product vehicle in addition to their existing mutual fund structures, in an attempt to nip outflows from mutual fund products in the bud,” Cerulli explains. “In an effort to compete with the low fees and transparency benefits ETFs offer investors, managers are taking various approaches to launching ETFs.”

Methods managers are taking include seeking approval from the SEC on non-transparent active ETF structures, launching active ETFs that mirror existing mutual fund strategies, or developing new “strategic beta” ETFs to enhance existing product offerings.

“It is clear that no firm wants to be left behind in the product shift to the rapidly growing vehicle,” Cerulli notes. “Firms are actively pursuing ways to enhance their product vehicle lineups with ETFs.”

According to Cerulli data, 62% of ETF sponsors state that they are currently looking to develop active ETF funds, while 54% state they are in the process of developing strategic beta ETFs.

These findings are from the January 2015 issue of “The Cerulli Edge – U.S. Monthly Product Trends Edition.” More information on obtaining Cerulli reports is available here