According to figures published by the Investment Funds Institute of Canada (IFIC) early in 2018, assets held by Canadians in mutual funds grew by more than 10% in 2017. However, the class known as “fund of funds” showed asset growth of almost 15%, while assets in stand-alone funds grew by only 8%. In fact, about two-thirds of mutual funds purchased in 2017 were funds of funds.
 
A graphic noting the sales and net assets of mutual funds in Canada at the end of 2017.  Sales were close to $15 billion for stand-alone funds compared to about $30 billion for funds of funds.  In terms of net assets, stand-alone funds are valued at $966 billion, while fund of funds hold $510 billion in value.
 
Let’s take a look at what may make fund of funds so popular.
 
  1. But, first: What is a fund of funds?
    Also called a “portfolio of funds”, a fund of funds is different from a stand-alone mutual fund in that it isn’t invested directly in securities such as stocks and bonds. Instead, it holds a variety of stand-alone funds; these stand-alone funds are invested in the market. This is also different from a balanced fund, which is invested in various asset classes but, for the most part, holds securities directly.
  2. Focused on Diversification
    With this type of product, mutual fund companies allow individual investors to diversify their investments among different asset classes with a single transaction and the same basic amount that they might invest in a stand-alone fund. To achieve an equivalent level of diversification, an individual, with the help of an advisor, would have to purchase many different funds. Some people prefer choosing particular stand-alone funds themselves and managing their own asset allocation. But a fund of funds approach offers an alternative for those who prefer to keep things simple.
  3. A Multi-manager Approach
    Since each fund of funds consists of several funds, it ends up being managed by several managers, too, each one favouring a specific investment style, for example, “growth” investing or “value” investing. This multi-manager approach is generally thought to provide an additional level of diversification.
  4. A Portfolio for Every Investor 
    A portfolio of funds will usually be characterized by a specific risk profile, ranging from conservative to aggressive. So an investor can determine his or her own profile and then choose to invest in a corresponding fund of funds knowing that, in principle, the asset allocation will match the risk level that the investor is willing to accept.
  5. Regular Rebalancing
    Finally, to ensure that the portfolio remains aligned with its risk profile, the company managing the fund of funds will look after rebalancing the asset allocation regularly to adjust for the variation in returns posted by the underlying funds. This means that the individual investor doesn’t need to do the buying and selling required to maintain the target asset mix.
 
These features give us some insight into why many investors choose this solution, at least for the core of their portfolio, which can then, if desired, be rounded out with more targeted investments. However, it’s important to realize that funds of funds generally have somewhat higher management fees than stand-alone funds. As well, if there is some overlap in the asset classes prioritized by the underlying funds, the investor might end up having invested repeatedly, although indirectly, in certain securities, which would not necessarily improve the portfolio’s asset diversification.
This may be why, despite the appeal of funds of funds, many mutual fund representatives and financial security advisors prefer to help their clients build portfolios using stand-alone funds. The pros and cons of each approach can be discussed with an advisor to match your needs.

The following sources were used in preparing this article:


Finance et investissement, « Comprendre le profil de risque », December 22, 2017.
IFIC, « 
Industry Overview », December 2017. 
Investopedia, « 
Funds of funds ». « Rebalancing  ».
Wikipedia, « 
Funds of funds », December 4, 2017.