Ask an expert Q&A: 3 US ETF trends and their impact in Europe

August 09, 2023

Exchange-traded funds are seeing a variety of interesting and innovative developments in the U.S. Learn what these trends could mean for European markets in the years ahead.

It’s commonly understood that fund trends in the U.S. eventually cross over to European markets. We sat down with one of our ETF experts, Tony O’Brien, chief commercial officer for Ireland at U.S. Bank, to discuss what he’s seeing in the U.S. right now and how it might affect asset managers in Europe.

Q: How are ETF trends in the U.S. and Europe connected?

When you look at the ETF space, what happens in the U.S. generally tends to happen in Europe 2-3 years later. In Europe, there’s always a lot of interest in what’s going on in the States as it gives managers sort of a crystal ball into what might be coming down the road.

The world is more connected now that it’s ever been, and macro-economic factors impacting the U.S. echo in Europe and vice versa. In turn, investment products that reflect the U.S. environment will eventually find their way to Europe in one shape or form. At a more granular level, we can see that investors themselves are becoming more global in their outlook. Demand for particular products and strategies on one part of the globe gets reflected more easily elsewhere.

Here at U.S. Bank, we’re a leading service provider both in the U.S. and in Europe, so we’re able to take a broad look at what’s going on across the entire industry. There’s a wealth of information in what we see that can provide insight and value for managers.

Q: What are some of the key trends you’re seeing with ETFs in the United States right now?

Three of the most notable trends we’re seeing are the prevalence of actively managed ETFs, the prevalence of ETF platforms and the rise of ETFs based on single stocks or variations of single-stock exposure.

Q: What does the prevalence of actively managed ETFs in the U.S. mean for Europe?

Almost everything that’s being launched in the U.S. right now fits into that actively managed bucket. The debate had been about whether your active ETF is transparent or non-transparent – does it show its portfolio to the market or not? That debate seems to be over, in that many new ETFs we see are totally transparent in what they’re holding. We’re also seeing a lot of sectoral ETFs based on an index where the index itself is actively managed, albeit according to strict rules. With this type of product, everyone has access to the index, so the fund’s holdings are fully available.

This is something we’re already familiar with in Europe. But I think we’re going to see more managers packaging strategies in ETFs and not being shy about showing the market the exact makeup of those strategies. They won’t feel as protective of their “secret recipe” if you will.

This development, in a sense, short-circuits a long-standing discussion in Europe around whether regulators, including the Central Bank of Ireland, will allow non-transparent ETFs or whether they’ll force ETFs to reveal their portfolios. It seems managers, on their own, are becoming more comfortable with revealing their portfolios like in the States.

One of our clients, for example, recently launched a European ETF, and every evening they publish the portfolio composition file (PCF) to the market making it easy for authorized participants (APs) to hedge. But at the same time, it delivers a really strong product for private wealth managers and institutional investors.

So, to summarize, I think there will likely be more active strategies coming to Europe. They’ll likely be brought in by U.S. managers. And they’ll likely be transparent.

Q: Why are ETF platforms so popular in the U.S., and will we see more of these vehicles in Europe?

A lot of the ETFs we service in the U.S. are on a platform, a framework known as a multiple series trust (MST).

Typically, if you’re an asset manager in the United States, the route to market is to set up some sort of registered fund product, such as an investment company under the Investment Act of 1940 or even a trust under the Securities Act of 1933. This can entail a lot of commitment in terms of registration, capital, corporate setup, regulatory considerations and time. It can be quite an undertaking to build and will involve costs in terms of people, expertise and cash.

There is an alternative. If you’re a smaller asset manager – maybe not as well capitalized – or even a manager of any scale with a unique strategy but limited time to capture that first-mover advantage, there’s an easier way of handling this. You can go to a firm, like U.S. Bank, which has a corporate or trust vehicle for clients already in place. Then they can simply launch additional sub-funds for you with your branding and strategy but housed within their platform. So effectively, you end up renting space for your ETF on someone else’s vehicle.

This is what we’re referring to when we talk about an ETF platform. In the U.S., they’ve been tremendously popular and successful because they allow smaller asset managers who have really interesting and innovative strategies an easy and quick route to market. They simply rent a sub-fund, or a series, from somebody else who’s already laid all the groundwork.

It’s quicker and cheaper, but you don’t have any control over the platform. You don’t have people on the board. You don’t have any say in service provider selection. And unfortunately, it doesn’t make distribution any easier either – there aren’t really any shortcuts to this. All it does is give you the ability to put your brand on a sub-fund and get it out into the market.

We’ve seen a number of these emerge in Europe, and I’m sure this trend will continue. Over time, we’ll likely see more U.S. platform operators look to set up similar ones in Europe and vice versa. At U.S. Bank, we’re well equipped to help with this in both directions, as we have a strong infrastructure, network and reputation in both the U.S. and in Europe.

Q: Do you think we’ll see more ETFs based on single stock exposure emerging in Europe?

Another U.S. trend that stands out, based on the what we’re seeing right now, is the high number of single-stock-leveraged products. It’s interesting to think about how that might translate into Europe.

In the U.S., these products are set up in a pretty straightforward way – the same as any other ETF. But in Europe, these products aren’t amenable to a UCITS structure. There are already a couple of firms leading the charge with these products in Europe, and I think we will see more of them.

As these products rarely meet the UCITS diversification requirements, we’ll probably see them set up as Section 110 special purpose vehicles. Section 110 is part of a finance act in Ireland (Taxes Consolidation Act, 1997) that, in an ETF context, can be used to issue notes to the market that are based on assets or asset classes that are not UCITS eligible – such as a portfolio of a single stock, or sometimes a single stock leveraged multiple times. These notes look and feel like the shares issued by a traditional ETF, but they’re not UCITS.

This connects to another mini trend we’re seeing in Europe, which is the ongoing push for more retail distribution. The European market still remains much more of an institutional market for ETFs, but that’s slowly changing. We’re seeing more app-style distribution channels targeted for different audiences – apps that curate, for example, pre-selected ESG funds or Sharia-compliant products. These can deliver certainty to their investors that any investments selected on the platform have been pre-screened to their own tastes.

Single-stock products are ideal for these types of distribution channels. As more of these channels come online and gain prevalence, we’ll likely see more single-stock type products coming to Europe and being set up as Section 110 special purpose vehicles. It may take a few years, but it’s definitely something to keep an eye on.

Whether you’re a large, established firm, or a specialized shop looking to take your business to the next level, we have a full spectrum of ETF servicing solutions to help accelerate your success. To learn more, visit or check out these other resources:

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Tapping into indirect compensation to recruit foreign talent

How institutional investors can meet demand for ESG investing

Sustainability + mobility: Trends and practical considerations

A checklist for starting a mobility program review

Assisting transferees in a high mortgage interest rate environment

Mortgage buydowns and subsidies in today’s talent-focused relocation policies

Manufacturing: 6 supply chain optimization strategies

High-cost housing and down payment options in relocation

Technology Financing

Webinar: User Management

Customers self-servicing online

Webinar: Running eBill Service Reports

Save time with mobile apps for business finances

At your service: outsourcing loan agency work

The client-focused mindset: What do clients expect?

Innovative payroll solutions may help attract hourly workers

ABCs of ARP: Answers to American Rescue Plan questions for counties

Overcoming the 3 key challenges of a lump sum relocation program

Treasury management innovations earn Model Bank awards

Crypto + Relo: Mobility industry impacts

For today's relocating home buyers, time and money are everything

How I did it: Grew my business by branching out

The moment I knew I’d made it: The Cheesecakery

Making a ‘workout’ work out as a business

Streamline operations with all-in-one small business financial support

How a bright idea became a successful business (in Charlotte, North Carolina)

Making the leap from employee to owner

Checklist: What you’ll need for your first retail pop-up shop

How mobile point of sale (mPOS) can benefit your side gig

How one organization is funding equity in the Chicago area

Staying organized when taking payments

Key considerations for online ordering systems

How does an electronic point of sale help your business keep track of every dime?

How iPads can help increase efficiency in your salon

How to identify what technology is needed for your small business

How a 13-year-old created a clothing line that reflects her passions

Opening a business on a budget during COVID-19

Starting a business? Follow these steps

Talent acquisition 101: Building a small business dream team

How I did it: Turned my side hustle into a full-time job

Costs to consider when starting a business

How to test new business ideas

How to get started creating your business plan

What is needed to apply for an SBA loan

The role of ethics in the hiring process

The costs of hiring a new employee

Give a prepaid rewards card for employee recognition

5 steps for creating an employee recognition program

Tips for building a successful customer loyalty program

Healthcare marketing: How to promote your medical practice

Checklist: Increase lead generation with website optimization

5 affordable small business marketing ideas when you have no budget

Why ecommerce for small business strategy is integral

Opening a second location? Cloud-based POS is key to a smooth unveiling

Do you have the best Point of Sale for an internet outage?

Omnichannel retail: 4 best practices for navigating the new normal

Is your restaurant Google-friendly?

How business owners are managing during the supply chain crisis

How small businesses are growing sales with online ordering

Email marketing: 10 mistakes to avoid

What you should know about licensing agreements

How to expand your business: Does a new location make sense?

Essential marketing tools for any business

3 simple brand awareness tips for your business

How a small business owner is making the workplace work for women

Common small business banking questions, answered

3 signs it’s time for your business to switch banks

7 uncommon recruiting strategies that you may not have tried yet