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Lack of comparison tools make ETFs a tough choice

Any current viewer of commercial TV will be aware  of the many and varied price comparison sites being promoted by anything from  Meerkats to corpulent opera singers.

Despite whether you have a favoured  advert or website, they all have an incredibly simple premise: they aggregate  similar products together to allow the customer a meaningful comparison of the  range of products on offer.  

For those of us involved in promoting,  selecting or advising on funds, comparison is something that we have been  familiar with for many years. Admittedly, it started with a variety of  magazines offering basic performance tables, was enhanced by the ill-fated CD  ROM and transformed by the internet, but the premise has always been the  same.

We have also been fortunate that our trade bodies have helped the  process along by providing sectors to narrow the search down. These sectors  are by no means perfect and have been widely criticised but they do provide a  filter, crude perhaps, but a basic way of aggregating similar products  together to allow a customer or an adviser a meaningful  comparison.

None of the last couple of hundred words will come as a surprise to  anyone, however it is worth remembering the things that we have always taken  for granted when considering the current debate of the usefulness of ETFs as a  tool in an adviser’s armoury. There are many thousand ETFs available to us all  but there remains nowhere to make a meaningful comparison between  them.

There is an increasing amount of evidence to suggest that the professional fund buyer, and I include the various multi-manager funds here, is using ETFs as a tool to execute their investment strategy, particularly in  areas that cannot be accessed via a traditional equity or bond fund. These  professionals spend their lives formulating an investment strategy and the  most appropriate way to execute that strategy but most advisers don’t have the  time or depth or resource to match these professional fund buyers. Why would  they, it’s not their job?

In my own  experience, I tried to find an ETF recently and I resorted to the great  comparison site that is Google. I did eventually manage to find what I was  looking for but finding anything to compare it to or even to find the features  of the fund that I had found proved virtually impossible. Having bought the  fund that I did, I have relatively little framework to assess whether my  choice of fund is performing properly or indeed whether I would be better with  something else.

ETFs have a place  in the investment landscape but until the Meerkats, or a more traditional  provider of fund data, finds a way of classifying the many thousands of funds  on offer, wouldn’t we be better sticking with the classifications laid down by  the IMA or the ABI and the funds within them?

Schroders UK head of marketing James Rainbow

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