Use of CITs in 401(k)s Continues Growth

Collective investment trusts dominate the large plan market, particularly within target-date funds, data shows.

The use of collective investment trusts (CITs) has surpassed the use of mutual funds in 401(k) plans with more than $1 billion in assets, according to data from BrightScope, part of ISS Market Intelligence*.

CITs more strongly dominate the large plan market, particularly within target-date funds (TDFs), BrightScope says. According to the data, in 2009, the target-date market share of CITs in these mega plans was 51%, while the target-date market share of mutual funds was 48%. The market share of CITs has grown steadily since then, to reach 86% in 2018, compared with a 13% market share for mutual funds.

The BrightScope/Investment Company Institute (ICI) “Defined Contribution Plan Profile: A Close Look at 401(k) Plans, 2018” report says mutual funds were the most common investment vehicle in 401(k) plans, holding 43% of large private-sector 401(k) plan assets in the BrightScope database in 2018. However, CITs were close behind, holding 33% of assets. “Mutual funds accounted for at least half of the assets in all but the very largest plans, where a larger share of assets was held in CITs,” the report says. CITs held about 6% of assets in 401(k) plans with $100 million or less in plan assets, compared with 49% in plans with more than $1 billion.

The allure of CITs is their lower cost compared with mutual funds. However, experts point out that some plan sponsors have concerns about CITs that make them skeptical about using the investment vehicles. CITs are less transparent than are other options—they have no ticker symbols, are not regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), are not subject to the Investment Company Act of 1940 (’40 Act) fund rules and participants are less familiar with them than mutual funds.

However, the threat of lawsuits over plan investment fees is also driving more plan sponsors to consider CITs. The different types of lawsuits can inform plan sponsors’ due diligence efforts when making an investment selection. Some lawsuits accuse plan fiduciaries of violating fiduciary duties when reviewing funds and fees because they did not consider available CITs as alternatives to the mutual funds in the plan. Other lawsuits have challenged the selection of untested CITs or the use of CITs with higher expense ratios than other CITs.

The popularity of CITs suggests they are worth considering, but as with any investment vehicle, plan sponsors must always follow a prudent process.

*Editor’s note: PLANADVISER is owned by Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS).