First JPMorgan Chase. Then Goldman Sachs. Now, Wells Fargo wants to charge into the biggest asset management battleground, exchange-traded funds.
The San Francisco-based bank’s fund unit is considering launching its first ETF within three to six months, company executives said. Following the success of giants that went before, Wells is beefing up its quant credentials as it prepares to compete for a chunk of the $4.1 trillion ETF pie.
Under consideration is a breed of ETF that’s all the rage among the math whizzes who now dominate passive investing. It’s a souped-up version of smart beta known as multifactor, which stuffs two or more investment themes into a single security, for instance value and momentum. Proponents say they’re a way of replicating active managers without their emotions or fees.
“We believe it’s a good time to take a look at things like low volatility, investing factor-based ETFs that are not so dependent on market-weighted stocks,” said Kirk Hartman, global chief investment officer of Wells Fargo Asset Management. “Multifactors, to me, that’s the key to success.”
More multifactor smart beta ETFs have been created this year than any other strategy, data compiled by Bloomberg show.
Wells Fargo fired its first shots in the robots’ direction two months ago with a deal to buy Los Angeles-based quant shop Analytic Investors LLC. Established in 1970, the firm gave Wells Fargo an array of both passive and active multifactor offerings and is now converting those mutual funds into smart beta ETFs.
The bank has some catching up to do. It’s one of the last big fund providers to add a quant arm to its investing force. Goldman Sachs Asset Management, for example, established its quantitative investment strategies team in 1989, getting leg up when it came to products with quant tilts. Wells Fargo will also be up against fund titans like BlackRock Inc. and Invesco Ltd., which have already amassed billions of dollars in assets by selling their clients on smart-beta.
“It’s still early, but this multifactor stuff, especially if it’s packaged to be competitive with commercial indexing, will be really, really big,” said Harin De Silva, president of Analytic Investors. “The thing we’re wrestling with is if it’s sufficiently differentiated because the last thing the world needs now is another ETF.”
To get that differentiation, Wells Fargo wants to bring a new concept to ETFs: factor risk parity. In its usual conception, risk parity is a strategy for partitioning a portfolio’s asset classes according to the size of their price swings. In a typical hedge fund portfolio, for instance, stocks would have a smaller chunk, bonds a bigger one, to balance their impact.
De Silva and other quants think pockets of every investor’s portfolio should be volatility-weighted.
“The biggest thing you can do is give someone this risk parity approach, because then it’s true diversification,” said De Silva. “If you can design a product so it has lower beta and there’s reasonable risk control, you’ll spend less time worrying about what the market is doing.”
Toying With Active