When should you pay active fund fees?

Richard Whitehall  |   23/05/2017 Text size  Decrease  Increase   |  

Richard Whitehall: One of the main changes in the finance industry in recent years has been an increased focus on costs, when considering investment decisions. At Morningstar, we would consider this as step forward. We have long championed that the single most important factor effecting a fund's relative performance is its price.

But this raises a question of when should cost constrained investors consider paying active management fees. At Morningstar Investment Management, we already manage portfolios with fee caps and there are three areas where we would decide to spend fee budget on active managers.

The first would be when accessing asset classes which can't be accessed through cheap passive vehicles. A good example here might be high yield which is difficult to access passively in funds. In 2015-2016 we saw good value in high yield and therefore decided we wanted to enter the asset class and we did that by accessing active managers and being prepared to pay the fee budget because we felt the opportunity was strong.

The second example would be when accessing active managers where they are in an area which has the best chance to outperform. And a good example here might be small-cap equities. Not necessarily covered widely by sell side investment bank analyst, there is a good opportunity here for active managers to really outperform.

Thirdly and lastly would be where you are accessing a fund manager who is very active taking high amount of relative risk, high amount of active risk and therefore being able to significantly outperform the passive alternative.

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