ETFs Get Active

Terry Flanagan

Often deemed as a placeholder for institutions, ETFs are inching their way into asset allocation.

Russell Investments, with $163 billion assets under management, announced its launch of four small cap investment discipline exchange traded funds (ETFs) this week. They will be listed on the Nasdaq.

The four ETFs are based on the recently launched Russell U.S. small cap investment discipline index series, which are designed to replicate specific investment strategies practiced by professional small cap equity managers.

For many institutions, ETFs have been used as a placeholder—a way to stay exposed while shedding underperforming managers on the search of their next receivers of capital. Russell aims to more precisely mimic active management by honing in on specific strategies.

“We want to provide a surgical tool to achieve smart beta,” said Mark Roberts, director of product management at Russell. “The classic case is when a pension needs to replace a manager on short notice, and we want to keep them invested in an efficient way.”

Institutional implementation of ETFs is also a combative strategy to combat style drift among active managers.

“Drift is well understood, it’s a natural risk,” Roberts told Markets Media. “You could hire someone as a small cap manager, and when you look down the road a year later, they’re managing a mid cap portfolio.”

ETFs can avoid the pitfalls of style drifting according to Roberts. Yet, they’re not subject to style drift; instead designed to provide investors with broad- based market exposure.

“We created these unique products to answer a very specific need in the market,” said James Polisson, chief executive of Russell global ETFs business. “Sophisticated investors now have an investment vehicle that provides them with focused exposure in the small cap asset class beyond the strict classification by sector and style.”

The new ETFs will include Russell’s small cap aggressive growth, small cap consistent growth, Russell small cap low P/E, and Russell small cap contrarian. The investment disciplines series is also available for large cap strategies, though; Roberts noted that Russell has “always had a heritage in the small cap space.”

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