Assets under management (AUM) refers to the total market value of client funds managed by a person or a financial institution, such as financial advisory firms, brokerages, and mutual funds. The term may refer to funds managed for an individual client or total clients.
Typically, the higher an institution’s AUM, the higher their earnings, so it’s a measure they’re often looking to increase. That said, institutions have different meanings of AUM. So it’s important to have a good understanding of why AUM matters and how it is calculated before using it as a metric to decide whether or not to invest with a financial institution or a fund.
What Is AUM?
As mentioned, assets under management (AUM) refers to the total market value of client funds being managed by an individual or financial firm. To calculate AUM, a firm adds up the total value of the securities they manage, such as stocks, bonds, treasury notes, or futures contracts. However, there are some differences in the ways that organizations do this calculation.
For example, some banks might include cash deposits in AUM, while others may only include assets over which they have discretion. While the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has rules about what can and cannot be included in AUM, different firms may interpret these rules differently.
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Factors Impacting AUM
AUM, also known as funds under management, is not a static figure, and several factors that can cause the number to fluctuate.
Inflows and Outflows
As clients and investors increase or decrease the amount of money they have invested with a firm or in an investment fund, the total AUM will change. For example, if investors sell off shares of a mutual fund, AUM will likely start to fall. Or if a client at a financial advisory firm decides to use that firm to manage more of their money, that firm’s AUM will likely go up.
Market shifts can also have a big impact on AUM, as the value of the securities in which the firm or fund has invested changes. For example, in a year when the stock market does poorly, assets managed by an advisory firm may decrease in value. During a market sell off, AUM often goes down for many firms. When markets do well, AUM will increase.
If a firm or portfolio manages investments that pay dividends and the firm reinvests those dividends instead of distributing them, AUM can also grow.
A Moving Measure
The factors above mean that AUM is constantly in flux. How dramatic the fluctuations are depends on how many investors are shifting their money, as well as the types of investments AUM includes. For example, funds with a lot of volatile investments, such as stocks, may see broader swings in AUM than funds that hold more stable investments, such as bonds.
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Is a Larger AUM Better?
A larger AUM can be a plus or minus depending on circumstances. For banks, asset managers, and other financial institutions, larger AUM can be a sign of prestige and a measure of success. That’s because a larger AUM can determine things like compensation and bonuses for managers and how the company ranks against its peers. Larger AUM often also means higher revenues for the company.
However, larger AUM isn’t always a positive factor. For example, in actively managed mutual funds where a manager is looking to outperform a benchmark, large inflows of cash that boost AUM may hinder their goals. That’s because allocating large amounts of money quickly can be difficult to do without changing the price of the investments being bought or sold. To compensate for this issue, the fund may purchase other types of investment that cause it to shift away from its initial focus, a process called style drift.
Investors may consider the size of a fund as an indicator of the ease by which they can buy and sell shares in a mutual fund or an exchange-traded fund (ETF). High net assets and trading volumes suggest that the fund is highly liquid and investors should have no problem buying and selling shares at any time.
It can also be helpful to understand how a firm’s AUM has changed over time, and how they compare to peers.
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Why is AUM Important?
AUM can have a big impact on individual investors’ decisions as they consider where to put their money. Companies often use their AUM as a selling point when they market themselves to clients. They contend that the larger the AUM, the more client interest and participation there is. In other words, AUM signals a vote of confidence in a firm. On the flip side, the lower the AUM, the fewer clients are interested in working with the institution or fund — theoretically anyway.
But AUM doesn’t always tell a full story. One firm with a handful of high-net-worth clients might have a higher AUM than a firm with dozens of clients with less savings. In this case, more clients actually chose to work with the firm with a lower AUM. So investors should be careful to look at other factors, such as investment approach, when determining who they want to work with.
Or a firm could decide to limit the number of investors it works with in order to provide more personalized service. In that case, the AUM might be lower, though the service could be better.
AUM can also have an impact on the investment fees that you pay. Many firms charge clients based on a percentage of their individual AUM, the money they hold with the firm personally. That percentage often goes down as the client’s AUM goes up.
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AUM may determine how financial advisors must comply with certain regulations. Firms with $100 million or more in AUM must register with the SEC, disclosing their AUM and a host of other information, each year.
In addition to information about AUM, Form ADV contains disclosures about disciplinary events involving advisors and their key personnel. Investors can access this information through the SEC’s Investment Advisor Public Disclosure website and use it to make informed decisions when choosing an advisor or money manager.
As you choose funds to invest in — or firms to invest with — it’s important to understand their AUM. When it comes to investment funds, AUM can help you get a sense of the size of the fund and how easily you will be able to buy and sell shares.
When it comes to choosing an advisory firm or other financial institutions, AUM can help you understand the size of the firm.
That said, investors should consider a wide array of other factors, including the fees, fund’s performance and manager’s experience, when choosing investments and the professionals who can help manage their portfolios.
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