Spanish mutual fund fees and less sophisticated investors: Examination and ethical implications

Business Ethics 18 (3):224-240 (2009)
Abstract
Some mutual funds not only apply the usual asset management and custodial fees, but also front loads and redemption fees as a kind of 'toll charge' payable on entering and/or leaving the fund. The aim of this work is to examine the implications of the different loads and fees applied to mutual fund investors in the Spanish market. The results show that there is a relationship between the various charges and fees. The fact that load fund companies charge higher management and custody fees proves the potential of the fund companies to impose higher fees on a segment of the clientele. The investors in load funds, which tend to be large in number of shareholders and belonging to banks and savings banks, are small investors who show a low cost sensitivity. A lower level of financial sophistication may be the reason for the apparent lower price awareness. The problem is that the investors in load funds are not financially compensated for the extra cost represented by the front-load and redemption fees. The only beneficiary seems to be the financial institution itself. On this view, the survival of load funds seems to depend on the lack of financial sophistication of their clientele, combined with market inefficiencies. It is worth asking about the ethics of a situation of market segmentation that allows managing institutions to benefit from the segment of the least sophisticated investors.
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