What Is UCITS?

By Brian O'Connell · July 31, 2023 · 5 minute read

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What Is UCITS?

Undertakings for Collective Investment in Transferable Securities (UCITS) are a category of investment funds designed to both streamline and safeguard investment transactions. UCITS are usually structured like traditional mutual funds, exchange traded funds, or a money market fund.

The European Union (EU) regulates UCITs, but they are widely available to non-EU investors. U.S. investors, for example, can buy shares of UCITS through U.S.-based fund managers, although local, EU-based money managers run the funds. Because they undergo a high level of regulatory scrutiny, many view UCITS as a relatively safe investment.

What Is a UCITS Fund?

UCITS funds are a type of mutual fund that complies with European Union regulations and holds securities from throughout the region. They emerged as part of an effort by the European Union to consolidate disparate European financial investments into one central sector, governed by the EU, with a “marketing passport,” that enables financial services firms across the EU to invest in multiple countries under a common set of rules and regulations.

The EU launched UCITS for two primary reasons:

1.    To structure a single financial services entity under the EU umbrella that allowed for the cross-sale of mutual funds across the EU, and across the globe.

2.    To better regulate investment asset transactions among all 28 EU member countries, giving investors inside and outside of the EU access to more tightly regulated investment funds.

Fundamentally, UCITS funds rules give EU regulators a powerful tool to centralize key financial services issues like types of investments allowed, asset liquidity, investment disclosures, and investor safeguards. By rolling the new rules and regulations into UCITS, EU regulators sought to make efficient and secure investment funds available to a broad swath of investors, primarily at the retail and institutional levels.

For investors, UCITS funds offer more flexibility and security. Not only are the funds widely viewed as safe and secure, but UCITS funds offer a diversified fund option to investors who might otherwise have to depend on single public companies for the bulk of their investment portfolios.

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A Brief History of UCITS

The genesis of UCITS funds dates back to the mid-1980’s, with the rollout of the European Directive legislation, which set a new blueprint for financial markets across the continent. The new law introduced UCITS funds on an incremental basis and has been used as a way to regulate financial markets with regular updates and revisions over the past three decades.

In 2002, the EU issued a pair of new directives related to mutual fund sales — Directives 2001/107/EC and 2001/108/EC, which expanded the market for UCITS across the EU and loosened regulations on the sale of index funds in the region.

The fund initiative accelerated in 2009 and 2010, when the Directive 2009/65/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 July 2009 clarified the use of UCITS in European investment markets, especially in coordination of all laws, regulations, and administrative oversight. The next year, the European Union reclassified UCITS w as investment funds regulated under Part 1 of the Law of 17 December 2010.

In recent years, “Alt UCITS” or alternative UCITS funds have grown in popularity, along with other types of alternative investments.

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How Does a UCIT Fund Work?

Structurally, UCITS are built like mutual funds, with many of the same features, regulatory requirements, and marketing models.

Individual and institutional investors, who form a collective group of unit holders, put their money into a UCIT, which, in turn, owns investment securities (mostly stocks and bonds) and cash. For investors, the primary goal is to invest their money into the fund to capitalize on specific market conditions that favor the stocks or bonds that form the UCITS. UCTIS funds may provide one way for American investors to get more international diversification within their portfolios.

A professional money manager, or group of managers, run the fund, and they are singularly responsible for choosing the securities that make up the fund. The UCITS investor understands this agreement before investing in the fund, thus allowing the fund managers to choose investments on their behalf.

An investor may leave the fund at any point in time, and do so by liquidating their shares of the fund on the open market. American investors should know that the Internal Revenue Service may classify UCITS as passive foreign investment companies, which could trigger more onerous tax treatments, especially when compared to domestic mutual funds.

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UCITS Rules and Regulations

UCITS do have some firm regulatory and operational requirements to abide by in the European Union, as follows:

•   The fund and its management team are usually based on a tax-neutral EU country (Ireland would be a good example.)

•   A UCITS operates under the laws mandated by the member state of its headquarters. After the fund is licensed in the EU state of origin, it can then be marketed to other EU states, and to investors around the world. The fund must provide proper legal notification to the state or nation where it wants to do business before being allowed to market the fund to investors.

•   A UCITS must provide proper notice to investors in the form of a Key Investor Information Document, usually located on the fund’s website. The fund must also be approved.

•   A UCITS must also provide a fund prospectus to investors (also normally found on the fund’s web site) and must file both annual and semiannual reports.

•  Any time a UCITS issues, sells, or redeems fund shares, it must make pricing notification available to investors.

The Takeaway

As discussed, Undertakings for Collective Investment in Transferable Securities (UCITS) are a category of investment funds designed to both streamline and safeguard investment transactions. Note that while UCITS are usually structured like traditional mutual funds, exchange traded funds, or a money market fund.

UCITS may be an interesting type of investment for U.S. investors looking to diversify their portfolios. As with any investment, investors must conduct thorough due diligence on the UCITS, which should include a review of fund holdings, past performance, management stability, fees, and tax consequences.

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