Dimensional Fund Advisors still has low RIA acceptance rate and stunning growth
The Santa Monica-based fund company is certain as ever of its mission -- and even more successful
After adding an ex-iShares product chief to call the shots and -- oye -- lowering fees, Dimensional Fund Advisors humbly and belatedly charges into ETFs and should score $5 billion in two years, an analyst says
DFA nabbed Nicole Hunter's BlackRock ETF playbook and committed to ETF-level fees to show the industry it plans to play to win assets -- even if some come from within.
November 12, 2020 – 4:43 AM
Dimensional Fund Advisors, long the flagship of factor investing, struggles to chart a course as a nimble rival and big foot competitors cut into its market--and exploit its slow move to ETFs
Vanguard, BlackRock and Avantis rattle a complacent Dimensional Fund Advisors with fee cuts and ETF roll outs based on 'smart beta.'
August 9, 2022 – 1:57 AM
Walt Bettinger sheds 'president' title and Bernie Clark gets new boss as Schwab appoints Rick Wurster as president and No. 2 in charge
The Schwab CEO gets 2016 'Windhaven' hire to share burden of governance from enormity of $8-trillion post-TDA, post-USAA, post-Motif growth.
December 20, 2021 – 11:59 PM
Ron A. Rhoades, JD, CFP
Excellent article about an extremely good company. I don’t usually write about specific products, preferring instead to discuss the due dligence process or other aspects of adherence to a fiduciary adviser’s duties of due care, loyalty, and utmost good faith. But, I offer the following observations in this summary discussion of the application of our firm’s due dilgence, in hopes that advisors who are interested in furthering their research and due diligence can pick up one or two helpful hints.
Our firm has utilized Dimensional’s funds since our inception nine years ago. For stock funds and separate account management, Dimensional Funds Advisors (DFA) is nearly our exclusive choice. And DFA’s ever-broadening range of fixed income funds is compelling, as well. Why?
It all comes down to the RIA’s fiduciary duty. This requires the fiduciary investment adviser to ask herself or himself three questions.
First, is the investment strategy used for your clients sound? “[T]he degree of care, knowledge and skill expected of professional investment advisers … The prudence of the investment advice must be judged by objective standards. A manager’s personal beliefs are largely irrelevant when measuring his conduct against the conduct of a prudent, objective adviser … The accepted standard of professional performance is that which has 'substantial support as proper practice by the profession.’ Alternate courses of conduct engaged in by the few do not establish the standard.” Erlich v. First Nat. Bank of Princeton, 208 N.J.Super. 264, 505 A.2d 220 (N.J.Super.L., 1984).
How would you prove such adherence? By expert testimony. And under the standards governing the admission of expert testimony in federal and state courts (Daubert, Fyre), the expert testimony should be grounded in academic research, an analysis based upon historical data, or both. Mere opinions of the expert, not grounded in research or facts discerned through statistical analysis, are generally insufficient.
And that’s one aspect of the value Dimensional provides to investment advisers. All of the advisors approved to utilize its funds receive education on the academic underpinnings involving the firm’s approach, and each of the firm’s funds. And numerous white papers, other articles, and webinars are archived and made available on the firm’s web site, aiding in the investment adviser’s due diligence processes.
I’m not saying that advisors should accept Dimensional’s investment approach based on the materials they provide, alone. It is altogether necessary that, in matters of the selection of strategic vs. tactical asset allocation, and choice of investment asset classes to utilize, and how those asset classes should be combined, the advisor should consider much broader sources of academic research. The Social Science Research Network provides a great volume of papers relating to “financial economics,” as a starting place. Many others exist. And many sources of datas can be utilized by an adviser to back-test, through statistical analysis, investment strategies which appear to have some academic support.
Nor do I suggest that the overall investment strategies Dimensional provides education on is the only investment strategy investment advisers can provide to their clients. There are many approaches out there. However, only a few survive the test of time and academic scrutiny.
In particular, I note that there may be strategies, other than the use of Dimensional’s funds, that are more suited for EXTREMELY risk-averse investors who cannot tolerate volatility in the value of their portfolio.
Yet each alternative strategy should, in my view, possess academic support, if the investment adviser touts same as “sound” in any fashion. (If the strategy is based upon qualitative judgments about the economy, etc., that’s ok – just ensure clients understand the basis of, and limitations of, such judgments, and the risks involved, through adequate disclosure.)
Second question the adviser must ask, during the fiduciary investment process, is the choice of investment products. In other words, “What investment products are out there which best access the asset classes I desire to use in the construction of portfolios for my clients?” Answering this quesiton involves surveying the universe of investment products available. Of course, screens can be utilized to whittle down the number which deserve close scrutiny. But then it is incumbent upon the advisor to “lift the hood” and get into the details.
Here again, Dimensional shines. Take its DFA US Large Company Portfolio, essentially an S&P 500 Index Fund. As the article alludes to, this fund has (by a few basis points) exceeded the returns of the S&P 500 Index itself over the past few years. How? Trading strategies designed to take advantage of market-driven (or index-driven) events – and such trading strategies are based on academic research. And a conservative, but effective, securities lending strategy, adding many basis points to the returns of many of its funds.
In fact, nearly all of Dimensional’s funds don’t slavishly follow commercial indices (and hence are forced to trade at inopportune times, and worse yet telegraph in advance their trades). These “passive” stock funds often possess such low turnover, high securities lending revenue, and other ways of adding value during the trading processes, that their “total fees and costs” (both disclosed annual expense ratio, and transaction-within-the-fund costs, and opportunity costs due to cash holdings – which are usually kept very small) fall to 1-digit basis points, or even “negative.” In other words, “better than index funds” and “better than ETFs” as to their cost advantages, in most instances. How much better? Read further.
Another aspect of the real value-add lies in the design of its funds which seek to capture the value and small cap effects. Academic research has tested these effects over the past two decades repeatedly, using many different data sets, over various long periods of time. The effects are real. The explanation for the effects vary, with some explanations grounded in the inherent relationship between risk and return at the individual stock level, while others surmise that behavioral finance provides the better explanation. The truth probably lies in both camps, and perhaps, in some respects, with other factors. The logic behind the effects, however, appears (in my judgment, based upon my ongoing review of the academic research), to be sound – and such effects are likely to occur in the future. How likely? Perhaps an 80% or greater certainty over any 15-year period. I like such odds. And, with even longer term periods, the likelihood of positive contributions from the capturing of the value and small cap effects is even higher. The value and small cap premia show up in most long-term periods; since stock market investing is, in my view, a long-term endeavor, and the effects are long-term as well, there is a good match in combining the equity premium with the value and small cap premium.
How much is the value add so far? During our due dligence processes, we’ve projected, for a 100% stock fund portfolio, a long-term (15-year) value add of 1.25% to 2.75%, approximately, as our “best guess” of the prospective value add, taking into account asset class valuations at various points in time. That’s a 1.25% to 2.75% value add over the NEXT BEST FUND FAMILY. There is no guarantee of this value add, as alluded to before. But, again, we’ve seen this range of “value add” in the historical data, and in our forward-looking projections. Moreover, some of Dimensional’s newer strategies (Core Equity Portfolios) reduce transaction costs even further, resulting in even greater possible value-add over long periods of time, relative to portfolios constructed of non-DFA funds.
Another “value add” of Dimensional is through the use of its “tax aware” and “tax managed” stock mutual funds. Every good investment adviser knows that he or she can add 0.5% to 1.5% a year, in terms of reducing the long-term tax drag on a portfolio’s returns, relative to the portfolios new clients bring us (who usually have worked with the large broker-dealer firms).
All of this discussion only scratches the surface of the academic research demonstrating how Dimensional adds value, relative to the indices and index funds (however “low cost” such index funds may be). For more, visit www.dfaus.com.
The third aspect of the fiduciary duty of care, in providing investment advice to individual clients, is discerning the needs of the client, and matching the investment strategy and the funds to the client’s needs. This is, of course, a one-on-one exercise with each client.
In summary, our firm has been extremely pleased to be able to offer Dimensional’s funds to our clients. If a better investment strategy, and/or better investment products, come along, we’ll certainly begin using same. But in nine years, and despite ongoing and periodic due diligence analysis of our investment strategies and investment product selection, few alternatives have even come close.
If, as an advisor, you are considering Dimensional’s funds, there are a couple of choices.
First, you may want to consider a turnkey provider, such as Buckingham Asset Management, Index Funds Advisors, DKE Advisor Services, or others. Many of these firms provide not only access to Dimensional but enhanced training and support to its advisors, including marketing training and support.
Alternatively, read up on Dimensional – including all of the articles on the public portion of its web site (and there are a lot) – see www.dfaus.com. Formulate a good business plan. And then – and only then – contact Dimensional directly, to speak to one of their Regional Directors. They’ll ask good questions – on the investment strategy you seek to employ, why you desire to employ it, and your business plan. Armed with a good understanding of the Fama-French 3-Factor model, EMH, MPT, transaction costs which funds possess, and more – and armed with a good business (and marketing plan) – you’ll possess a good shot at joining the “14% club” mentioned in the article. If not, you can always choose to work with a turnkey provider which has access to DFA’s funds – BAM or one of many more out there.
As our profession’s sage, Harold Evensky, alluded to, being, or becoming, an advisor approved to access to Dimensional’s funds is not elitist – it’s the result of “professional criteria” which Dimensional looks for. In short, DFA’s investment philosophies, and investment products, survives the type of scrutiny a prudent fiduciary advisor should impose, before turning around and providing recommendations to the client.
Elmer Rich III
As professional marketers we have to express admiration of an exceptional relationship marketing strategy and set of tactics. This is very rare in service and professional businesses and even more rare in financial services.
It’s worth noting a few strategic themes: – Segmentation: Picking a niche. The financial services world and asset-gathering world is vast and growing exponentially. There are many different markets within this overall product category and specific niches. – Exclusivity and Specific Criteria: A company needs to set firms boundaries in products and partners. No firm can serve all comers. – Simplicity: As academic studies are proving — asset management is not especially complicated. Having a straightforward message and repeating it over and over is the key.
Finally, it is said the most important decision a business makes is whether they find themselves in a growth market or not. AUM is a very clear and simple indication of whether a market segment is growing. As Willi Sutton said: Go where the money is.
The author kept repeating the term “indexing” confusing it with “passive” investing. Indexing is a specific form of passive investing. DFA has its unique approach to passive investing that is not indexing. It’s an important distinction because the two approaches are very different. based on this article, you would not recognize a difference between Vanguard and DFA.
@ John O,
thank you for beating me to the punch in pointing out the difference between passive investing and mere indexing. This is a signfiicant point.
DFA does neither indexing nor passive investing. There are no indexes, hence it’s not indexing by default. They utilize a quantitative approach to sort, select, and trade securities so that the combine portfolio produces a targeted multi-factor risk profile. This is not passive investing.
Just setting the record straight. I use DFA funds also.
It’s more passive than active, right?
Does it matter?
It doesn’t matter to David Booth. He’s said more than once that if you want to call it indexing, that’s fine; if you don’t, that’s fine. If you want to call it passive, that’s fine; if you want to call it active, that’s fine.
See your Thursday 7.14.11 article “Dimensional Fund Advisors tells RIAs it’s getting active in its quest for 401(k) assets” by Lisa Shidler; quoting David Booth, “We work so hard it’s a shame to call us passive.”
What matters is low-cost access to well managed multi-factor portfolios. It’s all about defining risks and calculating the per unit cost to access those risks. DFA does a pretty good in this category.
It sure doesn’t matter to me. My goal is just good communication. It may still be more helpful to refer to it as passive than active — even if there are a world of other factors tossed in. What “multi-factor” gains in accuracy is lost perhaps in its generic wording — along the lines of holistic wealth manager in terms of its catch-all nature.
Elmer Rich III
If human opinions determine the decision rules of an algorithms – how is that passive?
Computerizing human opinions is still active.
It’s not passive. But, as many ETF providers have since figured out, calling an active management strategy a passive indexing strategy has tremendous marketing appeal.
Elmer Rich III
Well, yeah lying is always effective, why it is so common, but out of bounds for professionals and regulated firms.
Supposedly, DFA is built of the passive theories of Fama. Computerized decision-making isn’t passive.
I have to politely disagree. In DFA and in index funds, some stocks are being filtered out, whether by sophisticated statistically sound technique (DFA), or arbitrary lists (index) – both require an “active involvement of human beings” to do the filtering or list selection. Since that is the case, then I would hang my hat on diversification as measured by number of issues. The more stocks in the fund, the more passive it is, because it represents less “selection”. Are there any index funds covering a particular asset class that contain more issues than the corresponding DFA fund? Of course, we have to be fair in the comparison. My assumption (always dangerous) is NO. Therefore on my “passivity scale” – DFA is most passive.
Elmer Rich III
OK, so we are talking about a fund that is sorta passive? So ignore the fudge factor and call it “passive” in public? Passive is very clear and easy to define – it’s indexing. What’s to discuss?
The analogy is flawed. The index is the largest sample of possible data points therefore the most accurate of true current value. Any human intervention #1 has proven to lead to losses and #2 -destroys the whole point of the academic evidence for passive on which DFA has based it’s business and business claims.
They certainly have a right to do that, but facts are facts. There is also truth in advertising.
BTW, what is a sophisticated statistically sound technique?”
Certainly compared to most active funds the corresponding index list is the larger list. But my assumption is that in most cases the DFA fund has more stocks. If we define 100% passive as owning every possible company then, yes, both DFA and index are semi-passive. My argument is in most, maybe all, asset classes DFA owns more comianies than corresponding index. Could a passive expert speak up with specifics?
I’m glad for Rick’s challenge here but I’m with you, John, in using common sense, broad-brush thinking.
Saying a tomato is fruit is interesting and instructive but i’m not sure it helps make a better fruit salad.
If a broad cap-weighted portfolio such as the Russell 3000 is a passive index, then a broad fundamentally weighted portfolio of the same 3000 stocks cannot be a passive index. Nor can a portfolio that screens out 1,000 of the 3,000 stocks because they don’t hit certain fundamental filters.
So, what is passive and what is active. I’ve had this conversation with many people over the years. The general consciousness is the “passive is in the eye of the beholder.” Cap-weighted total stock and bond market indexes are considered passive by most everyone. After that, what one person considers passive may be active to someone else.
I don’t think semantics matter as long as we all understand what is going on in a fund and why a manager is doing what he or she is doing. This is more clear in index funds because the index is transparent (caveat: the indexes in new self-indexing ETFs are going to be anything but transparent). However, do we really know what DFA is buying or selling or why? Does it matter? We know they have sound philosophy and strategy, and that’s good. But it is not a transparent process.
FWIW, I use a mix of low-cost beta seeking index funds from Vanguard and add DFA small-value funds to this beta base. This methodology creates a factor titled portfolio where I control the factor loads (rather than DFA) and it’s cheaper for the client. That being said, I’m also fine with a three-fund DFA portfolio; US Core Equity 2 Portfolio, Intl. Core Equity Portfolio and Emerging Markets Core Portfolio.
It’s all good.
Elmer Rich III
Semi-passsive is not passive – why pretend otherwise? This is people’s and organization’s assets – not fruit salad.
This is not a matter of semantics but a matter of fact.
Our laws and regulations say business statements must be truthful. Is that up for debate!?
OK, so…..some hard core definitions for you
Passive: you must own EVERY stock, at all times, to the end of time.
Active: you must trade EVERY stock, either buy or sell, at least once per… (I’ll be nice) ..week.
Now there are no longer ANY active or passive funds since no one meets that criteria – we can drop the designations forever.
Have a great Thursday.
Elmer Rich III
No, there are accepted industry indexes for passive and have been fore decades.
If you are making statements and promises to clients – they must be fact based.
Yes, but you forgot about the definition of an index.
Old definition – a measure of broad market value
New definition – any list of securities put together in any way – based on self-indexing rules released by the SEC this month.
Thus, all mutual funds and ETF are now index funds.
Elmer: Please post:
which industry organization created the passive definition to which you refer?
what is the title/number of the standard?
please provide a link to it
this must be “fact-based” as you said.
From a practical point of view – since DFA more thoroughly covers asset classes than the corresponding index – they are better representation of an asset class than the index. There are thousands and thousands of indexes by the way. So if you are to say that there is something magic about an index – now you have to evaluate them and decide which is the “official index” for each asset class. Now there’s a fun job!
Elmer Rich III
There are publicly accepted indexes. Sales claims about definitions are irrelevant.
The central claim of the theory is that human behaviors detract from performance and are to be eliminated as much as possible. So the accepted indices are used. Human opinions built into computer programs challenge the theory.
“Self-indexing” contradicts the theory developed from academic research. It is a marketing accommodation, supported by the SEC. The decades of academic research supports public indexes. There is no research to support “self-indexing.”
It get worse.
The SEC action on permitting anything to be an index (strategy indexes and self-indexing) contradicts their own definition of an index:
“An “index fund” describes a type of mutual fund or unit investment trust (UIT) whose investment objective typically is to achieve approximately the same return as a particular market index, such as the S&P 500 Composite Stock Price Index, the Russell 2000 Index or the Wilshire 5000 Total Market Index.”
and the SEC’s definition is appropriate. Who is to say that the S&P500 is the best index to measure large US companies? Is there something magic about that S&P conference room as the decisions to drop and add a few companies to the index are made? Does that room grant special powers of wisdom to the folks inside it making those decisions? No. they did it first, got the notoriety, that’s it.
Elmer: the indexes are based on “human opinions”! They do not come from a financial God on High written on stone tablets! When I describe an index, I describe “a bunch of yahoos sitting in a conference choosing companies from a list”! And that’s exactly what it is. (with great deference to the yahoos, of course!) :)
How do lists somehow escape human opinions? Humans make those lists!
The SEC isn’t saying the S&P 500 is the best measure of large companies. They’re saying an “index” represents “market.” Not any more.
It’s appropriate for the SEC to change their definition on their website because the public will be confused (as if they aren’t already). They should state that an “index” is any list of securities that forms a portfolio. That what it is today, pathetically.
i didn’t say that SEC thinks that. my point is that indexes are simply lists. the S&P500 gets a lot of notoriety. One could argue how it arrived there. Now if some credible organization came up with a credible process for either “certifying” an index or creating one themselves that was deemed “best” for representing a particular asset class – wouldn’t that be wonderful? (maybe not?)
Elmer Rich III
Fama’s work was the supposed basis for DFA. The representativeness of groups of securities is an empirical, academic, researchable question – not a matter of regulations.
You can’t regulate this – it’s a research and empirical question. The technical, professional actions are entirely separate from the communications of the products to the public.
Of course, humans chose but the fewer the better and least frequently – based on the research.
The theory says remove human behaviors as much as possible.
Elmer – so how do you remove the human behaviors from the indexes? How often you revise the list has no bearing. How many are involved has no bearing. Humans makes those lists! Just think of all the politics going on inside those companies as folks want their favorites to make the list!
So execute your theory on indexes. Right now they are off the table based on your own definition!
By the way, if your problem is computer programs written by humans, well – i am sure the people that actively pick the companies to be included in the list have mucho computer involvement! (along with all the human emotion)
There are no passive indexes or funds if human involvement must be eliminated. And if human involvement must be removed as much as possible – well, good luck putting a measurement together on THAT! Talk about grey area!!
Where is SPOCK when you need him!!! I bet Spock could pick this list devoid of all human behavior!
Elmer Rich III
These are empirical, data-based, factual questions not a matter of definitions or regulations. Vast amount of resources are spent on this topic. Do some research on google, what does the data say?
The actual theory base is that (active) human investment behaviors are far worse than other selection and timing mechanism. This follows other research on human “decision making” and systematic errors. For examples, doctors with simple checklists or decision rules do far better.
Total elimination is impossible but the research argues for as little as possible.
If you stand behind this grey area, then you will have to come up with a way to measure it. Which list was developed with “most elimination of human behavior”. Wow! Ha, ha, measure that one! That’s too big for a 1,000 page book, or a Ph.D. dissertation….. Impossible to measure! you can talk all you want – but you have to put some quantification on it. Otherwise, all hot air… you cannot just talk about it and state your opinions of what situation has “most elimination of human behavior”.....
Elmer Rich III
It’s easy since every action is computerized.
provide a quantitative analysis of what list-making effort has the “most elimination of human behavior” – since it is easy, let’s see it…
Elmer Rich III
DFA is making a sales claim that they can add value by inserting human decisions. 1 – There is no independent evidence for that, 2- It contradicts all the academic research.
What is a fiduciary to make of that claim?
Whether DFA adds value is really irrelevant when an adviser who uses DFA is charging 1% for access. Net, net, the clients of a 1% adviser are much better off self-managing in a few low-cost Vanguard index funds. I’ve always found this hypocritical where an adviser espouses the virtues of using DFA because their fees are low and then slams the client with a high adviser fee.