This brings to mind my second concern with the partnership: program stability. The fact that BlackRock and Fidelity are now offering 65 funds is great, but there’s nothing to say that those offerings will be consistently upheld. Already we’ve seen changes with EEM and EFA being thrown out despite their popularity.
The fee structure of such programs also lends to a lack of predictability. Advisors that built portfolios on the Fidelity-BlackRock platform using a tactical strategy are now at a disadvantage with the new fee structure that penalizes those that sell ETFs in less than 60 days.
Advisors have already voiced their concerns, and some are now planning to move to other platforms like Charles Schwab’s One Source program, which offers Schwab ETFs and those of select ETF issuers commission free—without the trading penalty.
However, the lack of stability isn’t just an issue with BlackRock and Fidelity. It’s an issue with commission-free programs like Schwab’s as well. Schwab’s program is essentially an agreement between Schwab and other ETF issuers. There’s little debate that if Schwab were to launch an ETF that competed directly with an ETF currently on the OneSource platform from another ETF issuer, the non-Schwab ETF would likely get booted from the program.
This brings us to my biggest point: When ETF issuers get involved with commission-free or trading platforms, there’s an inherent conflict of interest. The result is that investors can’t depend on access to programs that offer the best ETFs with predictable transaction costs. Rather, the best way to ensure fair and proper trading procedures is to do so through independent third-party platforms.
Although the exchanges have treated ETF trading as if it were akin to single-stock trading, there is some hope that ETFs will receive the much-needed attention they deserve with programs such as the new market-maker incentive program that was proposed by NYSE Arca. However, simply relying on ETF issuers to provide platforms is hardly a sustainable approach.
At the time this article was written, the author held no positions in any of the securities mentioned. Contact Ugo Egbunike at [email protected].