Swedroe: Conflicts Of Interest In Banks

December 03, 2018

About 40% of mutual funds are run by asset management divisions of groups whose primary activity is commercial banking. This creates a potential conflict of interest—fund managers who are employees of commercial (or investment) banking organizations may act in ways that benefit their organizations’ interests at the expense of fund investors.

Alternatively, lending could generate private information about borrowers via credit origination, monitoring and renegotiation that is valuable for the bank-affiliated fund manager, providing an exploitable advantage for fund investors.

However, at least in the U.S., organizations are required to impose “Chinese walls” to prevent communication between the asset management and the lending divisions so that affiliated funds operate independently of other bank divisions.

Recent Research

Miguel Ferreira, Pedro Matos and Pedro Pires investigated these two hypotheses in their study “Asset Management Within Commercial Banking Groups: International Evidence,” which was published in the October 2018 issue of the Journal of Finance. The study covered 28 countries and 7,220 domestic equity funds over the period 2000 through 2010. They focused their tests on actively managed funds that invest in domestic equities, because banks typically have stronger lending relationships with domestic firms.

Following is a summary of their findings:

  • Bank-affiliated funds underperform unaffiliated funds by 92 basis points per year as measured by four-factor (beta, size, value and momentum) alphas. The results were robust to alternative measures such as benchmark indices.
  • Bank-affiliated funds’ portfolio holdings are biased toward client stocks over nonclient stocks. On average, affiliated funds have about 15% of their holdings in client stocks, about 6% percentage points more than comparable passive funds hold of the same stocks.
  • The client stock a fund buys underperforms the client stock a fund sells in the group of funds that overweight more client stocks. However, they do not underperform in the trading of nonclient stocks.
  • Bank-affiliated funds with higher exposure to client stocks (in excess of the portfolio weights in passive funds that track the same benchmark) tend to underperform more.
  • Bank-affiliated funds underperform more when the ratio of outstanding loans to assets under management is higher—most of the underperformance of bank-affiliated funds is explained by the size of the lending business of the banking group.
  • Consistent with conflicts of interest, the underperformance is more pronounced among those affiliated funds that overweight more the stock of the bank’s lending clients.
  • Funds affiliated with financial conglomerates with both relevant commercial and investment banking activity underperform by 0.5% percentage points per year.
  • The underperformance of bank-affiliated funds is more pronounced in countries where there is high concentration in the fund industry (41 basis points per quarter) than where there is low concentration (20 basis points per quarter).
  • While international funds affiliated with a commercial banking group underperform unaffiliated funds, the source of this underperformance is not driven by conflicts of interest with the lending division.
  • Funds that switch from bank-affiliated to unaffiliated through divestiture subsequently significantly reduce their holdings of client stocks and experience improved performance. While supporting the conflict of interest hypothesis, it also suggests that the results are not driven by systematic differences in manager skill.
  • The sensitivity of affiliated fund flows to poor performance is statistically insignificant, suggesting that affiliated fund investors (typically, retail investors) exhibit inertia.

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