Many financial innovations make it easier to invest successfully. In other cases, though, new products only serve to separate you from your money.
Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) have evolved from a tiny offshoot of the mutual fund market to a $1 trillion industry of their own. Once limited to just a few broad-market funds, the wide range of ETFs now available allow you to slice and dice the investing world however you want.
As you'd expect in any growing market, however, some ETFs make better investments than others. As the number of ETFs continues to grow, it seems as though new fund offerings are hitting a point of diminishing returns, not providing enough additional value to justify their cost.
Take the One Fund
In particular, the fund uses two readily available ETFs to implement a simple asset allocation strategy. Currently, the One Fund has 70% of its assets in two U.S. stock ETFs, Vanguard MSCI US Prime Market
In exchange for providing this service of aggregating five low-cost ETFs into a single package, however, the One Fund turns into a fairly costly investment, at least as ETFs go. Predictably, the Vanguard and iShares offerings have relatively low expense ratios, amounting to about 0.16% for the mix of ETFs that One Fund owns. But One Fund adds its own management fee of 0.35% to choose those ETFs -- more than tripling the net cost of establishing the portfolio.
Do it yourself
Now, I'll admit that there's some value in providing a single investment that encapsulates multiple asset classes. Moreover, the One Fund purports to be actively managed, so presumably, the investments the fund makes may shift over time.
But that doesn't justify the One Fund's added costs. Thanks to Vanguard's recent cost-cutting initiative, you can open a brokerage account there and get free access to all four of the Vanguard ETFs the One Fund currently owns, all of which would make sound components of your overall portfolio. Moreover, you'd have access to dozens of other ETFs that Vanguard offers. With a wider selection of available ETFs, you'll find it much easier to create your own custom-made mix of ETFs, drawing from all of Vanguard's offerings to put together a portfolio allocation that's uniquely tailored to your own financial goals and needs.
Keeping your holdings in separate funds also gives you some tax-related benefits that a single fund doesn't offer. Since you have control over all the component ETFs in your self-made portfolio, you can time purchases and sales among various ETFs to minimize capital gains and harvest tax losses.
With all those benefits, saving the 0.35% that One Fund charges is just icing on the cake.
Simple is smart
This won't be the last time that a new financial product tacks on extra charges for something you could do yourself. But every time someone shows you what they believe is the next big thing, ask yourself: Is there anything here that you can't do better and more cheaply with tools you already have? If the answer is no, you're probably better off sticking with the tried-and-true investment vehicles you've used for years.
Last week's 1,000-point mini-crash showed us up close and personal what financial innovation can do. Find out from the Fool's team of experts exactly what the heck happened.
Fool contributor Dan Caplinger knows there's no one ETF for anyone. He doesn't own shares of the funds mentioned in this article. The Fool owns shares of Vanguard Emerging Markets Stock ETF. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Fool's disclosure policy was our single best financial innovation.