BlackRock to Expand Quant Investing

Actively managed funds at BlackRock, the world’s largest fund company, are facing the new reality of quantitative investing, according to this week’s New York Times.

The exchange-traded-fund business the firm bought from Barclays in 2009 has seen huge growth, “leaving in the dust the stock pickers who had spurred an earlier expansion for the firm,” according to the article. BlackRock has therefore adopted a plan to consolidate several of its actively managed funds “that rely more on algorithms and models to pick stocks.” This will affect approximately $30 billion in assets under management and result in at least 36 employees leaving the firm.

Laurence Fink, founder and CEO of BlackRock, has long asserted his belief that the client should be free to choose between low-cost passive or expensive active investing strategies, the article suggests that he “is now a true believer in systematic investing styles over the stock picking smarts of individual portfolio managers.” Still, Fink doesn’t intend to go all passive—actively managed funds are still profitable for BlackRock and represent 16% of total revenue, the article says. “We have to change the ecosystem,” says Fink, “that means relying more on big data, artificial intelligence, factors and models within quant and traditional investment strategies.”

The firm’s new plan probably won’t immediately curtail the outflow of investor dollars, the article says. “In fact,” it argues, “outflows are likely to increase, as few investors want to stick with a fund undergoing an existential makeover.” But Fink believes it’s better to “take the pain now than later.”