Considering active vs passive investment management

Karuna Deora / FinTech  / Considering active vs passive investment management

Considering active vs passive investment management

Active investors research and follow companies closely, and buy and sell stocks based on their view of the future. This is a typical approach for professionals or those who can devote a lot of time to research and trading. NerdWallet, Inc. is an independent publisher and comparison service, not an investment advisor.

Stock Market Index Swaps are swap contracts typically negotiated between two parties to swap for a stock market index return in exchange for another source of return, typically a fixed income or money market return. Swap contracts exposure investors to counterparty credit risk, low liquidity risk, interest rate risk, and tax policy risk. Exchange-traded funds are open-ended, pooled, registered funds that are traded on public exchanges. A fund manager manages the underlying portfolio of the ETF much like an index fund, and tracks a particular index or particular indices. “Authorized participant” acts as market makers for the ETF and delivers securities with the same allocation of the underlying fund to the fund manager in exchange for ETF units and vice versa.

  • Section 5 discusses how a portfolio manager can control tracking error
    against the benchmark, including the sources of tracking error.
  • Due to poor returns of active management and the recommendation of influential financiers like Warren Buffett, investor cash has flooded into passive management in recent years.
  • These risks include political and economic uncertainties of foreign countries as well as the risk of currency fluctuations.
  • Sampling within each strata could be based on minimum market-cap criteria, or other criteria that mimics the weighting scheme of the index.
  • For guidance when investing, ask a financial professional about buying Thrivent mutual funds & ETFs.

A passive investor rarely buys individual investments, preferring to hold an investment over a long period or purchase shares of a mutual or exchange-traded fund. These investors tend to rely on fund managers to ensure the investments held in the funds are performing and expect them to replace declining holdings. Active investing means investing in funds whose portfolio managers active trading vs passive investing select investments based on an independent assessment of their worth—essentially, trying to choose the most attractive investments. Generally speaking, the goal of active managers is to “beat the market,” or outperform certain standard benchmarks. For example, if you’re an active US equity investor, your goal may be to achieve better returns than the S&P 500 or Russell 3000.

While no equity-focused investment approach can be called safe, a portfolio more focused on matching market returns is safer than one seeking to “beat” or “time” the market. On the other hand, if risky investing is within your means, an active portfolio could be more fitting. Stratified sampling in index investing means that managers hold sub-sets of securities sampled from distinct sub-groups, or strata, of stocks in the index. The various strata imposed on the index should be mutually exclusive, exhaustive (sum to make up the whole index), and reflective of the characteristics and performance of the entire index. Common stratification techniques include industrial sector membership (such as sector membership defined by Global Industry Classification Standard (GICS)), equity style characteristics, and country affiliation. Sampling within each strata could be based on minimum market-cap criteria, or other criteria that mimics the weighting scheme of the index.


Because passive investing is an innately long-term approach, it’s best for those with long-term financial objectives. For instance, passive investors might be saving up for retirement or for their child’s college education. Before investing any money in the market, you should take some time to learn about the strategies available to you.

It’s important to understand fully how each approach works, and the differences between them. Some investors have very strong opinions about this topic and may not be persuaded by our nuanced view that both approaches may have a place in investors’ portfolios. If your top priority as an investor is to reduce your fees and trading costs, period, an all-passive portfolio might make sense for you. In our experience, investors tend to care more about factors like risk, return and liquidity than they do fees, so we believe that a mixed approach may be beneficial for all investors—conservative and aggressive alike. Another advantage is that passive managers seeking to track an index can generally
achieve their objective. Passive managers model their clients’ portfolios to the benchmark’s
constituent securities and weights as reported by the index provider, thereby replicating
the benchmark.

Passive management

Active investing, as its name implies, takes a hands-on approach and requires that someone act as a portfolio manager—whether that person is managing their own portfolio or professionally managing one. Active money management aims to beat the stock market’s average returns and take full advantage of short-term price fluctuations. TIAA managed accounts offer professional management to help you feel confident your portfolio is aligned with your goals and investment style, especially during continued volatility. Your TIAA advisor will work with you to construct a well-diversified portfolio that suits your unique needs and goals, and help you determine the right mix of active and passive investments depending on your current situation. “Regardless of your situation, remember that deciding which type of fund to buy doesn’t need to be an either/or proposition. Many investors use a mix of index funds and actively managed funds in their portfolios.” Given that over the long term, passive investing generally offers higher returns with lower costs, you might wonder if active investing ever warrants any place in the average investor’s portfolio.

who manages a passive investing fund

Successful passive investors keep their eye on the prize and ignore short-term setbacks—even sharp downturns. Some might have lower fees and a better performance track record than their active peers. Remember that great performance over a year or two is no guarantee that the fund will continue to outperform. Instead you may want to look for fund managers who have consistently outperformed over long periods. These managers often continue to outperform throughout their careers.

What You Need to Know About Active vs. Passive Investing

While some passive investors like to pick funds themselves, many choose automated robo-advisors to build and manage their portfolios. These online advisors typically use low-cost ETFs to keep expenses down, and they make investing as easy as transferring money to your robo-advisor account. The biggest difference between active investing and passive investing is that active investing involves a fund manager picking and choosing investments, whereas passive investing typically tracks an existing group of investments called an index. Passive investing strategies often perform better than active strategies and cost less. Some specialize in picking individual stocks they think will outperform the market. Others focus on investing in sectors or industries they think will do well.

With this backdrop, investment managers began to offer strategies to replicate the
returns of stock market indexes as early as 1971. Further motivation for passive investing comes from studies that examine the return
and risk consequences of stock selection, which involves identifying mispriced securities. This differs from asset allocation, which involves selecting asset class investments
that are, themselves, essentially passive indexed-based portfolios. Brinson, Hood, and Beebower (1986) find a dominant role for asset allocation rather than security selection in explaining
return variability. With passive investing, portfolio managers eschew the idea of
security selection, concluding that the benefits do not justify the costs. Fees for both active and passive funds have fallen over time, but active funds still cost more.

This material should not be viewed as advice or recommendations with respect to asset allocation or any particular investment. This information is not intended to, and should not, form a primary basis for any investment decisions that you may make. Morgan Stanley Wealth Management is not acting as a fiduciary under either the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended or under section 4975 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 as amended in providing this material. The indices selected by Morgan Stanley Wealth Management to measure performance are representative of broad asset classes. Morgan Stanley Wealth Management retains the right to change representative indices at any time. That’s one of the issues explored in Investment Strategies and Portfolio Management, which also covers topics such as fund evaluation and selecting appropriate performance benchmarks.

“A lot of things that typically work in the early part of the cycle start to lag when the early phase dies out, and investors grow concerned about slowing growth and the Fed getting involved,” Canally says. John Schmidt is the Assistant Assigning Editor for investing and retirement. Before joining Forbes Advisor, John was a senior writer at Acorns and editor at market research group Corporate Insight. His work has appeared in CNBC + Acorns’s Grow, MarketWatch and The Financial Diet. As a rule of thumb, says Siegel, a manager must produce 10 years of market-beating performance to make a convincing case for skill over luck.

Thus, this lack of customization and flexibility could leave passive investors feeling like they’re not involved enough in the overall management of their money. One of the main tenets of passive investing is the maintenance of long-term holdings. In the past couple of decades, index-style investing has become the strategy of choice for millions of investors who are satisfied by duplicating market returns instead of trying to beat them. Research by Wharton faculty and others has shown that, in many cases, “active” investment managers are not able to pick enough winners to justify their high fees. Full replication in index investing means that manager holds all securities represented by the index in weights that closely match the index weights.

Actual events may differ from those assumed and changes to any assumptions may have a material impact on any projections or estimates. Other events not taken into account may occur and may significantly affect the projections or estimates. Accordingly, there can be no assurance that estimated returns or projections will be realized or that actual returns or performance results will not materially differ from those estimated herein. Investment funds that employ passive investment strategies to track the performance of a stock market index are known as index funds. A typical passively managed fund might contain all stocks in a particular index like the S&P 500 index, a market-cap-weighted index that represents the average performance of a group of 500 large capitalization stocks. When the S&P 500 index rises and falls, so does the passive fund, often by similar amounts.

who manages a passive investing fund

Dividends are cash payments from companies to investors as a reward for owning the stock. Active investing requires analyzing an investment for price changes and returns. Familiarity with fundamental analysis, such as analyzing company financial statements, is also essential. This material does not take into account any specific objectives or circumstances of any particular investor, or suggest any specific course of action. Investment decisions should be made based on the investor’s own objectives and circumstances. Without that constant attention, it’s easy for even the most meticulously designed actively managed portfolio to fall prey to volatile market fluctuations and rack up short-term losses that may impact long-term goals.

Investors in passive funds are paying for computer and software to move money, rather than a high-priced professional. So passive funds typically have lower expense ratios, or the annual cost to own a piece of the fund. Those lower costs are another factor in the better returns for passive investors. The idea behind actively managed funds is that they allow ordinary investors to hire professional stock pickers to manage their money.

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