Chuck Jaffe: Edward Jones’ unusual move into mutual funds
When a big-name investment firm steps into the space with something new, investors take notice, figuring they will get something special.
There are too many mutual funds to choose from, so it’s safe to say that no one really needs a new one.
But investment companies don’t create funds for you, they do it for their own selfish business reasons, and then sell you on why you should try the new one.
Moreover, when a big-name investment firm steps into the space with something new, investors take notice, figuring they will get something special.
But the news earlier this month that Edward Jones is entering the mutual-fund space is, frankly, just a bit weird, and investors can learn a lot about the fund industry by exploring a move that might simply be quirky and isolated, but that could be the start of the next big thing.
Edward Jones serves about 7 million clients nationwide, through its network of more than 12,000 financial advisers across North America.
The company has 10,000 offices for those advisers, using what it calls a “neighborhood approach” where, in many cases, the planners run one-person shops in small towns where they have deep roots and well-developed contacts, making them the planner-of-choice for locals trying to get a handle on their finances.
One of the key messages the company has always sent to its advisers — and its planners passed to the public — is that it does not offer proprietary products, meaning that its advisers do not sell the “house funds,” because working with outside providers is in the best interests of the client.
Now comes the word, first reported by Investment News, that Edward Jones is opening the Bridge Builder Bond fund, managed by a Jones subsidiary — Olive Street Investment Advisors — in conjunction with outside managers from J.P. Morgan Asset Management, Prudential Investments and Robert W. Baird & Co.
That means the fund, slated to open in September, has a good management team.
Truthfully, however, investors could already get bond funds run by those managers, so it’s not like this is some investment star breaking away or some hedge-fund sharpie hanging out a mutual-fund shingle.
It’s just a big management firm throwing its hat in the ring; in time, Jones could become a big deal in the broker-sold fund space, but this is just a first step.
The new fund joins the several hundred that are part of the Edward Jones Advisory Solutions investment platform; even in that smaller, screened crowd, it does not appear particularly unique, except for who is behind it.
Studies have shown the existence of something called “new fund phenomenon” — where startup issues provide a bit more pop than established funds while they are small and nimble — but it applies mostly to equity funds, so that’s not likely to come into play with the Bridge Builder issue.
Edward Jones ultimately may build a more complete fund lineup, but that’s not expected in the short-term.
And having a brokerage firm’s name on the door has never been much of a selling point for funds, as it usually ensures middle-of-the-road performance or mediocrity.
The parent companies generally don’t want their fund managers to do anything that drags the firm name through the mud, so the stock jockeys don’t take enough risk to produce above-average returns.
Thus, the question should be “What’s the selling point here?”
It’s not that the fund is likely to get a hard-sell push, because a number of Edward Jones advisers I spoke to say they will introduce the fund slowly, if at all, to a client base that might wonder if they were suddenly facing a conflict of interest.
But when Edward Jones advisers put a client into an outside fund and performance falters, they need to dump the fund to make a manager change.
Thus, if a planner suggests a client buy, say, an issue from the American funds that is available on the Jones Advisory Solutions platform and winds up disappointed, they must jettison the fund.
The new house fund gives them several top-flight managers; if any of them falters, the firm can jettison the sub-adviser and make a change to management, but shareholders can ride along and get an upgrade without triggering a trade.
Thus, ease of managing the overall portfolio — having better control of the portfolio by diversifying managers within the fund — is the likely selling point.
It’s a good point (though there’s a delicate balance between diversification and having too many managers) but that shouldn’t make anyone — least of all a Jones customer satisfied with the current portfolio — run out to make a change.
New funds are only worth a serious look if they bring something unique that the investor would go out and pursue on their own, without a sales pitch.
If there’s no immediate attraction — you want the manager, you need the diversification, you admire the approach — there’s no reason to buy the next new fund.
Don’t mistake the next new fund — regardless of its sponsor — for the “next great fund;” ultimately, “proven” is a much better reason to buy a fund than “new” ever could be.
Chuck Jaffe is senior columnist for MarketWatch. He can be reached at email@example.com or at P.O. Box 70, Cohasset, MA 02025-0070.
Copyright 2013, MarketWatch