A surprise newcomer is disrupting the ETF business in a big way.
Major insurance companies have launched six of the largest most popular new ETFs of 2017 (eight, if you count Principal, which derives a significant minority of its revenues from insurance sales):
Biggest ETF Launches of 2017, by AUM (highlighted ETFs owned by insurance companies)
Source: Bloomberg. Data as of Oct. 23, 2017. Insurance companies are highlighted in yellow; Principal is marked in pink.
Three of those mega-launches—four, again, if you count Principal—occurred in the last month alone.
That makes insurance companies the Kool-Aid Man of ETF issuers, crashing into the industry to become the breakout stars of 2017.
Yet insurers-turned-issuers are still few in number, and total assets in their funds remain relatively small. As of Oct. 26, only six insurers—John Hancock, Transamerica, Nationwide, Hartford Funds, Principal and now USAA—had issued their own ETFs. (For a full list of ETFs, see the table at the end of this article.)
All told, the 46 ETFs these companies have issued account for just $3.7 billion in assets—chump change compared to the rest of the $3 trillion ETF market. Yet $3.7 billion represents significant market share for a bunch of newcomers, especially in a marketplace that has become increasingly difficult for new entrants to survive.
‘Bring Your Own Assets’
Before we go further, however, we ought to clarify what we mean by "insurance company," because it isn't as straightforward as you might think.
Many insurers exist as branches of larger asset management or financial services firms. Fidelity sells insurance, for example, as does Charles Schwab and Goldman Sachs. But for these firms, insurance doesn't represent their main—or even a significant—source of revenue.
For our purposes, we define "insurance company" as a firm for whom insurance represents a primary or significant source of revenue, even if that vertical is just one of a larger umbrella of financial service offerings. The distinction is important, because the six insurers who've launched ETFs have done so by separating out their ETF operations into wholly owned but independent business lines. For instance, John Hancock Investment is separate from John Hancock Life Insurance Co., and so on.