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Unpublished Paper
Mutual Fund Investors: Divergent Profiles
ExpressO (2008)
  • Alan R Palmiter
  • Ahmed E Taha

Mutual funds are owned by almost half of all U.S. households, manage over $12 trillion dollars in assets, and have become a primary vehicle for retirement and investment savings in the United States. Who are mutual fund investors? The answer is critical to regulatory policy for the mutual fund industry. Fund investors, by selecting the funds in which they invest, play a central role in determining asset allocation and in controlling the fees and expenses that funds charge. Thus, the functioning of the mutual fund market turns on the knowledge and financial sophistication of fund investors.

This article examines the profiles of mutual fund investors presented by the mutual fund industry, by the SEC, and by an extensive empirical academic literature produced primarily by finance professors. The industry portrays fund investors as diligent, fairly sophisticated, and guided by professional financial advisors. The industry claims that the result is a competitive mutual fund market as fund investors demand low costs and solid performance. The SEC’s regulatory policy paints a more cautious portrait of fund investors. While acknowledging that many investors have limitations, the SEC touts improved disclosure by the industry as a sufficient antidote. The academic literature, however, finds that fund investors are generally ignorant and financially unsophisticated. Most investors are unaware of even the basics of their funds, do not take costs (especially ongoing costs) into account when they invest, and chase past performance, despite little evidence that past fund returns predict future returns. In addition, even fund investors who use financial advisors do not make better choices.

The SEC’s belief that fund investors can fend for themselves, once armed with adequate disclosure, fails to appreciate the extent of investors’ limitations. Instead, the findings of the academic literature suggest that policymakers must rethink current regulatory policy. Disclosure may not be enough.

  • Securties Regulation,
  • Securities,
  • SEC,
  • Mutual Fund,
  • Disclosure,
  • Retirement Savings
Publication Date
February 26, 2008
Citation Information
Alan R Palmiter and Ahmed E Taha. "Mutual Fund Investors: Divergent Profiles" ExpressO (2008)
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