Given these assumptions are known, fund performance will deviate in some way from its respective index. For this reason, it’s pragmatic for a manager to assign expected tolerance bands as a form of performance measurement. This is a critical step in the portfolio construction process, as it helps establish performance expectations. If the performance differential between the fund and its respective index substantially deviates from its tolerance bands over time, the investor may be incurring an additional cost (i.e., negative tracking error) or potentially taking on unintended risk in the case of significant outperformance. That said, it’s critical that an index manager finds the right balance of minimizing tracking error and risk when overcoming these variables.
Why Is Size Important?
Size supports scalability and provides breadth and depth from a product perspective. A substantial index asset base may serve as an indicator of an asset manager’s commitment to the index style, helping to pave the way for innovations in process improvements, technology, new product development or enhancements to existing strategies.
Large index managers are also able to support the G in ESG (environmental, social and governance) investing through asset stewardship, using proxy voting to influence corporate actions.
Furthermore, size may potentially help a manager better track a respective index, particularly if the index is broad and has a large number of constituents. For example, the popular MSCI ACWI ex US IMI Index, which covers developed ex US and emerging markets, has more than 6,000 constituents presenting challenges from a replication standpoint in a small fund. So ideally a larger asset base may be able to more easily replicate the index, as it can hold more stocks in the index. In addition, sizable funds with a diverse client base can often accommodate larger contributions or redemptions. This can potentially lead to less turnover, assuming the manager invests in futures or utilizes an internal crossing network, whereby contra investors’ flows can be netted against one another.
And finally, size can translate into more effective implementation. This is particularly meaningful in the DC arena, which encompasses millions of investors and countless transactions. In this context, a large fund manager may be able to more easily absorb money movement with less impact to fund performance. In practice, this means a large fund can potentially accept substantial cash contributions without having to immediately buy securities to house the assets. Instead, managers can buy or sell futures to reduce transactions costs. More importantly, a manager with a large and diverse client base will likely have more contra flows that can be netted against one another, assuming the manager has established a robust internal crossing mechanism. This process can provide substantial savings to plans and participants, often in excess of the management fee of a fund.
What Is the Most Appropriate Vehicle for an Index Fund and Why Does It Matter?
Index funds are offered to US-based institutional investors in several structures, including mutual funds, pooled trusts like collective investment trusts (CITs), exchange-traded funds and separately managed accounts. Depending on factors such as the investor’s tax status or legal structure, investment time horizon, liquidity and need for customization, one vehicle may be more suitable than another for certain investors. For the purposes of this section, we’ll focus on the differences between mutual funds and CITs, which are pooled funds regulated by the US Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and often the most suitable index vehicle for large-scale, tax-exempt entities such as defined contribution plans.
Despite almost 50% of defined contribution plans in the US offering CITs on their plan line up, mutual funds remain the primary default index fund vehicle option. Some reasons may include the perception of “portability,” participant familiarity and ability to access publicly available information. However, CITs offer a number of advantages over a mutual fund. Some of those advantages include:
- Ability to cross and reduce transaction costs
Given their unique structure, CITs can cross either at the individual security or unit level via an internal trading network (if supported by the manager), resulting in a significant cost savings, as the manager is able to avoid going out to the open market to trade. Figure 2 highlights the cost savings that State Street Global Advisors and our respective clients have received as a result of using an internal crossing network.