This article is part of an ongoing series celebrating the 30th anniversary of the first ETF listed on U.S. exchanges.
Read more from our 30th anniversary coverage:
State Street Corp. may have launched the first exchange-traded fund in the U.S., but BlackRock’s iShares has dominated the industry for much of the past three decades.
That reign may soon come to an end.
The world’s largest ETF issuer had $2.18 trillion in U.S.-listed assets under management through its iShares offerings as of Dec. 31, while Vanguard had $1.87 trillion, according to ETF.com’s year-end League Table. The $317 billion that separates iShares and Vanguard is close to the narrowest on record.
Initially a collaboration between Morgan Stanley and Barclays, iShares entered the ETF market with a bang in 1996, when it launched over a dozen international-focused ETFs. Sensing the massive opportunity in the industry, BlackRock scooped up iShares in 2009 for $13.5 billion—a bargain basement price for an issuer that now manages $2.3 trillion across 397 ETFs in the U.S.
Inflows for Vanguard ETFs have outpaced those for iShares ETFs in each of the past three years. Prior to that, iShares’ inflows were routinely ahead of those of Vanguard. In 2022, the gap between BlackRock and the No. 2 ETF issuer continued to narrow. Vanguard pulled in more money than BlackRock for the third straight year: $192 billion versus $171 billion.
Racing for the Crown
The data suggests Vanguard is on track to steal the ETF asset crown from iShares sometime in the next few years—if current trends persist. Of course, BlackRock likely won’t give away the No. 1 position it’s held for over a decade without a fight, though it’s a wonder what the firm can do to stem the tide.
Many of iShares’ top ETFs are dirt cheap and on par in terms of cost with comparable funds from Vanguard. It also has a much more comprehensive set of ETF offerings compared with Vanguard—397 versus 81.
On the other hand, Vanguard’s investor-friendly reputation is arguably second to none, and that’s allowed it to gain ground on its rival even in categories where the two have very similar products.
Today, BND has nearly $88 billion in AUM, $1.5 billion more than AGG, even though they both have identical expense ratios (0.03%).
For investors, competition between the two ETF giants is only a good thing. Fees will continue trending down, and iShares will probably launch a plethora of interesting products to keep the money flowing into its funds.
With at least a few years to go before a potential regime change, the bottom line is this: Vanguard’s ascension to the No. 1 ETF issuer position is likely, but by no means guaranteed.