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Build-your-own-index boom could hit $825 billion in four years

An index strategy that’s all about customization is expected to grow faster than other investment vehicles over the next four years as investors’ desire for personalization intensifies.

Cerulli Associates expects assets in so-called direct indexing to climb to $825 billion by 2026 from roughly $462 billion now, according to the research shop’s new paper sponsored by direct-indexing provider Parametric Portfolio Associates. That’s a five-year compound annual growth rate of 12.3%, exceeding growth forecasts for exchange-traded funds, mutual funds and separately managed accounts.

Direct indexing essentially allows investors to cherry-pick which stocks to buy in a benchmark index instead of owning a fund that tracks a specific gauge like the S&P 500. In recent years, the strategy has boomed in popularity. It gives specialization-minded advisors the ability to tailor portfolios at lower costs, which has become more important as asset management firms vie for clients’ dollars.

“Competition continues to intensify in the wealth management industry as investors exercise more control over their portfolios and providers are challenged to differentiate,” the paper said. “This has continued to amplify industry interest in direct indexing and, more broadly, mass customization of client portfolios.”

Wall Street has been pouring billions of dollars into direct indexing. Franklin Resources, better known as Franklin Templeton, bought O’Shaughnessy Asset Management in September 2021 for its custom-indexing business known as Canvas. In 2020, BlackRock purchased Aperio for $1 billion, while Morgan Stanley paid more than $7 billion for Eaton Vance and its custom portfolio business Parametric in 2020.

To be sure, total assets in direct indexing are still dwarfed by ETFs and other products. Though Cerulli sees mutual funds’ five-year compound annual growth rate shrinking 2%, they would still command nearly $19 trillion in 2026. Meanwhile, money in ETFs is projected to climb 9.5% to $11.3 trillion in that span, while separate accounts are seen rising 7.2% to $2.5 trillion.

“Direct indexing, once hailed as an ‘ETF killer’ that would revolutionize investing, has yet to make much of a dent,” Bloomberg Intelligence senior ETF analyst Eric Balchunas wrote in an October report. “Direct indexing could find some niche uses, but we don’t think it will surpass 2%-3% market share given it’s more complex, active and expensive than ETFs.”

To that point, Cerulli sees “mass-affluent and high-net-worth clients” as the largest addressable market for custom indexing, despite shops such as Fidelity and Altruist offering services for accounts with balances less than $10,000.

Franklin Templeton’s custom-indexing platform Canvas, for instance, isn’t offered to retail investors, according to O’Shaughnessy Asset Management client portfolio specialist Jamie Catherwood. But Canvas has crossed $3.5 billion in assets and 2,000 accounts since launching at the end of 2019, he said.

“Just from our experience, it’s growing very rapidly, and it’ll only continue to grow as technology and software evolves and price points become lower and fees fall,” Catherwood said on Bloomberg Television’s ETF IQ on Monday.

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