The so-called “feemageddon” in the asset management industry has been unequivocally good for investors. Fees have dropped across the board, starting with ETFs, but also flowing through to actively managed mutual funds. However, the downward pressure on fees has also created interesting new fee structures. The first one to discuss is the most obvious—free funds. Both Fidelity and Sofi have introduced free index mutual funds and free ETFs, so the line in the sand on fees has been crossed. Other firms, such as Westwood Holdings and AllianceBernstein, have come up with entirely new concepts. AllianceBernstein has a “Flex Fees” actively managed mutual fund which has a low basic fee (ETF-level fee) and then only charges a mark up if it outperforms, offering much better economics to investors. Westwood Holdings, has a little bit different but similar fee arrangement which tries to mitigate the potential for misaligned incentives in “fee only when you outperform” structures, which incentivize portfolio managers to take risks. Their approach is called Sensible Fees, and only rewards incentive compensation to managers based on risk-adjusted performance.
FINSUM: We think the fee disruption going on in the industry is leading to some healthy innovation amongst fund managers. These new funds seem like they will only grow in popularity, especially as fiduciary advisors get more popular.