The U.S. ETF market is a crowded place; 80 percent of the assets are tied to three firms—iShares, Vanguard and State Street. So getting a slice of the market is a daunting task, but Lee Kranefuss knows his way around the territory. Often referred to as “the father of ETFs,” Kranefuss spent 14 years at BGI and iShares, building the ETF platform into the behemoth that is today.
After leaving iShares in 2010, Kranefuss now works for private equity shop Warburg Pincus, which hired him to identify and evaluate investment opportunities in the ETF market. Earlier this year, the firm bought a majority stake in U.K.-based Source, a European asset manager and ETP provider; Kranefuss has become executive chairman of the firm.
Source is currently the fifth-largest ETF provider in Europe, with $19 billion in assets as of the end of June, according to Deutsche Bank. Year-to-date, the company’s assets are up 26 percent—the Warburg Pincus deal went public Jan. 20—versus 14 percent growth for all European ETF providers.
While Europe is a big focus of Source’s expansion, Kranefuss also has aspirations further afield, including the U.S. In June, the company filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission to roll out the Source Euro Stoxx 50 ETF, and Kranefuss says he is currently building out a team in the states.
“We anticipate being a large and significant player in the global ETF market,” he says. “We already are in Europe and we’re trying to expand that.”
He says Source has a “different angle of competition” than the current competitors. He points to their open architecture approach where they partner with other asset managers (such as PIMCO and the Man Group) to deliver co-branded products. He also looks at the firepower of its owners: Warburg Pincus is a major investor in the company, but existing investors include J.P. Morgan, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, Nomura and Goldman Sachs.
“We have a lot more momentum to work with than somebody starting up in the U.S. with two products,” he says.
It’s still a hurdle. “Even companies that have stronger brand names in the U.S. face an uphill battle to gain market share,” says Todd Rosenbluth, director of ETF research at S&P Capital IQ.
Take Fidelity, for example, which has $1 billion in ETF assets. An impressive start, but compare that to iShares, with $720 billion in assets. That’s not to say there isn’t room in the market for new players, Rosenbluth says.
“I don’t doubt an experienced management team’s ability to find ways to gain investor attention,” Rosenbluth says. “It’s just going to be hard. There’s not a lot of new ways to crack the ETF market.
“The easier way to grow is to partner with an established ETF provider that has a strong brand and a strong distribution.”