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Nationwide Joins Insurers' Move to Passive With Smart-Beta ETFs

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The passive pull is proving too strong to pass up.

Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. is launching three exchange-traded funds that use strategic beta strategies. The new ETFs will aim to track risk-weighted indexes that provide a “smoother ride” for investors, Chris Graham, chief investment officer for Nationwide Funds, said in a phone interview.

In June, the Columbus, Ohio-based insurance and financial services company held talks with Precidian Investments to license a type of active ETF that would keep its holdings hidden and sought regulatory permission to launch an active fund using a rival structure from Eaton Vance Corp. Those efforts are still in the works, and the firm already has active mutual funds. This is its first foray into passive investing.

(Related: ETFs: Why They Keep Growing on Advisors)

“If you believe in active we have active,” Graham said. “If you want passive, this is a form of passive that’s a little more expensive than the market cap weighted indices, but we think that the value add makes sense.”

Nationwide, which is best known for its slogan “Nationwide is on your side,” joins companies including Principal Financial Group Inc. that have pushed into the ETF market in recent years. San Antonio-based United Services Automobile Association filed for permission to start a new line of ETFs earlier this year, and a Prudential Financial Inc. executive said Thursday they would consider entering the smart-beta ETF market using strategies it’s currently using at its quantitative asset manager QMA.

The new funds, which cost between 30 and 40 basis points, will aim to reduce volatility, with two tracking U.S. equities and the third covering international stocks, according to a statement Friday. Looking to the future, Graham said the insurer isn’t set on doing more ETFs.

“We’re not in an arms race to launch new products,” he said. “If they are products that make a lot of sense then we’ll launch those to add value.”

—With assistance from Katherine Chiglinsky and Rachel Evans.

—Read Nationwide Tests Web-Based Program: Annuity Products on ThinkAdvisor. 


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