Exploring How ETF Fees Are Deducted

Exploring How ETF Fees Are Deducted

4 Min.

Management fees are expenses incurred by investors in ETFs, which include various costs such as manager salaries, custodial services, and marketing expenses. These fees make up a part of the total management expense ratio (MER). Typically, MERs are lower for passive funds than for active ones. It's important to note that higher fees have a compounding effect over time, which can significantly reduce overall investment returns.


Within exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and mutual funds, the deduction of investment management fees is a routine process managed by the respective ETF or fund company. Daily adjustments to the fund's net asset value (NAV) occur seamlessly, shielding investors from direct visibility of these fees on their statements, as the fund company internally manages this aspect. It is imperative for investors to recognize that management fees constitute only one facet of the broader management expense ratio. The MER is a comprehensive metric deserving of investor scrutiny.

ETF Operational Costs and Investor Returns

Operating within standard parameters, an ETF entity encounters various operational costs, spanning manager salaries, custodial services, and marketing expenditures, all of which are deducted from the Net Asset Value (NAV).

Consider an ETF with a declared annual expense ratio of 0.75%. On a $50,000 investment, the anticipated annual expense amounts to $375. Assuming a zero percent return, the investor would witness a gradual decrease in their investment from $50,000 to $49,625 over the year. The investor's net return from the ETF hinges on the actual total return earned by the fund minus the stated expense ratio. If the ETF achieves a  15% return, the NAV will increase by 14.25%, representing the total return after deducting the expense ratio.

Significance of Fees on Investment Returns

Considerable attention should be given to fees, as they substantially influence overall returns. A $100 investment experiencing a 7% annual growth would amount to $197 over 10 years, excluding fees. However, factoring in a 1% annual fee reduces the outcome to $179, reflecting a diminution of approximately 10% in the potential portfolio. Given the compounding nature of fees over time, akin to portfolio assets, an extended investment period magnifies the impact, leading to more substantial losses.

Strategies for Expense Mitigation

Recently, fees have experienced a general reduction, yet variations persist among funds regarding expense levels. A pivotal factor lies in the dichotomy between passive and active management. Passive management involves mirroring the holdings of a stock index, often the S&P 500, occasionally deviating slightly. Managers of "index funds" or "index ETFs" periodically rebalance fund assets to align with the benchmark index, incurring minimal trading costs.

Conversely, active managers, as the name implies, play a more active role in selecting fund assets. This entails the use of costly research departments, a feature absent in passive funds, and often involves a higher frequency of trading, leading to increased transaction costs. These factors collectively contribute to the Management Expense Ratio (MER).

Insights From the Annual Fund Fee Analysis

Morningstar's 2020 annual fund fee study highlighted noteworthy trends in U.S. open-end mutual funds and ETFs. The asset-weighted average expense ratio decreased from 0.48% in 2018 to 0.45% in 2019. Over the past two decades, this ratio has nearly halved, leading to estimated savings of $5.8 billion in fund expenses for investors in 2019.

The competitive landscape among fund companies is fostering a shift towards fee-based compensation models, moving away from traditional transaction-based approaches. Investor preferences for cost-effectiveness are reflected in net inflows and outflows, with the least expensive 10% of funds experiencing inflows of $526 billion in 2019.

The rise of low-cost robo-advisors contributes to the reduction in wealth management service expenses, exerting pressure on fund companies to maintain low expense ratios. Investors are increasingly embracing digitalization in investment services, leveraging easily accessible online platforms to construct high-quality portfolios at minimal costs. Projections indicate that the global robo-advisory market will exceed $41 billion by 2027, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of nearly 32% between 2020 and 2027.


Management fees significantly impact returns through the Management Expense Ratio (MER), with passive funds generally having lower MERs. Operational costs, exemplified by a 0.75% annual expense ratio on a $50,000 investment, emphasize the impact on returns. The importance of fees is evident, as a 1% annual fee can lead to a 10% reduction in a $100 investment, growing at 7% annually over a decade. Mitigating expenses involves navigating the evolving landscape of fee-based models and passive vs. active management.

Morningstar's annual fee analysis shows decreasing trends in expense ratios, indicating substantial savings. The competitive market, driven by fee-based models and low-cost robo-advisors, underscores the crucial role of cost-effectiveness. Investors can leverage digitalization for cost-efficient portfolio construction amid the anticipated growth of the global robo-advisory market.

Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs)
Management Expense Ratio (MER)
ETF Fees