Investors want more ETFs as smart beta stirs interest

Jun 26th, 2014 | By | Category: ETF and Index News

Even with a perceived proliferation of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) on the market today, two-thirds (66 percent) of investors say there is room for more, according to a new study by retail broker Charles Schwab.

Investors want more ETFs as smart beta stirs interest

ETFs in excess? Not true, say investors, according to a study from Charles Schwab.

Among them, nearly 60 percent say more ETFs will lead to increased competition and lower prices, and that continued product innovation is necessary to keep up with a changing market and economy.

More than a quarter (28 percent) say that more product choice is the industry trend that has most benefited investors in the past few years, while 40 percent are particularly keen to learn more about ‘smart beta’ and how these innovative products can best be harnessed.

The study found that seven out of ten investors say they are confident in their ability to choose an ETF that is right for their investment objectives. Yet, even as investors are embracing choice, a surprising 38 percent of investors say they want a better understanding of how to choose an ETF. Thirty-nine percent would like to better understand how to best use ETFs in their portfolio.

“It’s clear that investors expect innovation and choice when it comes to ETFs, but that enthusiasm is coupled with a desire for a deeper understanding of how to choose and use the products,” says Heather Fischer, vice president of ETF platform management at Charles Schwab. “Although 40 percent of investors still consider themselves ETF novices, that group has been steadily shrinking and is down from 45 percent in 2013. What this means is that education remains a top priority but as ETF investors are becoming increasingly savvy, they are seeking products, strategies and access that go beyond the basics.”

ETFs make up an average of 18 percent of portfolios among those who own them. One in five owners says that ETFs account for 25 percent or more of their total investments, up from 16 percent who said the same thing in 2011.

Investors use ETFs to accomplish a variety of investment goals. Forty-four percent primarily use ETFs for core or long-term holdings, while 22 percent use them for tactical or short-term investments. And 34 percent of investors like ETFs for both long- and short-term holdings.

As investors gain a deeper understanding of ETFs their confidence grows. The most confident ETF investors– the 16 percent of all investors who say they are extremely confident in their ability to choose an ETF – see ETFs playing a more significant role in their portfolio.

Forty percent of investors say they know more about ETFs today than they did last year. Sizable numbers of investors say they “have a good understanding” of many ETF basics, such as how they differ from other products (45 percent), the benefits and risks of investing in them (37 percent and 36 percent), and how to use ETFs for targeted exposure to certain asset classes (34 percent). The study shows that investors are looking for what is next and want education to advance their understanding of ETFs.

This year’s study reveals that 39 percent of investors are curious to learn more about ‘smart beta’ products that use fundamentally weighted indexes, low volatility or equal weight strategies, among others. Of that group, three quarters want a better understanding of the differences between smart beta strategies and nearly eight in ten want to know how to best use them in their portfolios.

Investors are also interested in new ways to access ETFs. Three out of five want ETFs in 401(k) plans. The most attractive benefit, according to these investors, would be the ability to invest in market segments that are more accessible than mutual funds (37 percent). The appealing low cost of ETFs (24 percent) and their intra-day tradability (24 percent) followed. One in five respondents predicts that increased availability of ETFs in 401(k)s will be the most positive ETF trend for investors in the next several years.

“ETF investors welcome innovation and as they look ahead they believe that better education, more products and choices and the availability of ETFs in 401(k) plans will be one of the most critical developments for ETF investors over the next several years,” noted Fischer. “The future of ETFs certainly appears bright, but as an industry it is our responsibility to keep the flame alive with the right education and resources so investors can keep pace.”

As of May 31, 2014, Schwab had $210 billion in ETF assets custodied on its platform. Its proprietary Schwab ETFs had $20.5 billion in assets as of May 31, 2014.

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