MSTs: An efficient and cost-effective solution for operating a mutual fund

Explore the structure of a multiple series trust and the benefits it offers in an increasingly complex compliance and governance landscape.

Tags: ETFs, Funds, Mutual funds
Published: April 05, 2018

The number of multiple series trusts (MSTs), also known as shared trusts, has increased by 17 percent annually over the last 10 years.1 While the reasons for this are many, one is predominant. MSTs offer an efficient means of operating a registered investment fund in an increasingly complex compliance and governance landscape.

This article will provide an overview of MSTs, describe their benefits and highlight how investment managers can find the advantages inherent in the MST structure.


What is an MST?

An MST is an open-end investment management company (mutual fund) organized as a series trust. The MST structure is typically sponsored by a service provider and utilized by multiple, unrelated investment management firms to house their mutual fund products. Each fund is a portfolio, or “series,” of the trust. The trust, through its board and service providers, performs management of all fund operations, governance, servicing and administration. This allows the manager to focus on their core competency—investment management.

Historically, MSTs were utilized by advisers with limited assets under management as an inexpensive means of offering a mutual fund family with small assets. Today, in addition to their historical role, MSTs are also a viable option for large managers to efficiently and cost-effectively manage the compliance, operational and governance of their mutual fund products.


MST funds versus proprietary funds

The single biggest difference between an MST fund and a proprietary fund is the shared MST legal entity and infrastructure. The MST fund leverages the existing board, service providers, policies and procedures of the MST. Each investment manager would require these elements of the fund operations to be replicated if they chose the proprietary model for their mutual funds.

The responsibilities of the MST board members are identical to those of a proprietary fund trustee. Each mutual fund trustee has a fiduciary duty to represent and protect the interests of the investors of the fund(s)—the duty of care and duty of loyalty. Meanwhile, the investment manager handles managing the investments, promoting and distributing the fund(s), and providing quarterly portfolio and management information to the MST trustees.


Benefits and advantages

The MST business model—with its shared legal entity and infrastructure—provides numerous benefits for the investment manager. A number of the key advantages are listed below:

  • Reduced time to market: A new MST series drafting process generally takes 30 days, whereas drafting a new proprietary trust can take up to 120 days.
  • Cost advantages: An MST provides economies of scale for certain fund startup and annual operating costs.
  • Governance and service expertise:  MST fund managers benefit from the experience and expertise of an existing board of trustees familiar with mutual fund regulatory and operational issues.
  • Compliance infrastructure: The MST sponsor provides an experienced chief compliance officer as well as the Sarbanes-Oxley monitoring and certification for all fund financial reporting.
  • Administrative efficiencies: By adding mutual funds to an existing MST, many required administrative services are in place.


MST startup

The MST sponsor manages all of the legal and operational tasks involved in establishing a fund within a MST, guiding the investment manager through the regulatory and implementation issues.

The initial task involves drafting the fund registration materials that will describe the investment strategy proposed by the investment manager. The MST sponsor will establish all fund policies, procedures and operations such as the following:

  • Valuation procedures
  • Code of ethics
  • Privacy policy
  • Fidelity bond insurance
  • Service agreements
  • Distribution plan
  • Shareholder servicing plan
  • Fund expense projection
  • AML compliance procedures

MSTs provide an attractive solution to investment managers seeking to devote more attention and resources to investment-management and asset-gathering responsibilities. As compliance requirements in the mutual fund industry become more complex, efficiency becomes paramount. Given the current trends in the regulatory environment, it seems unlikely the popularity of MSTs will diminish anytime soon.


To learn more about MSTs and whether they might be right for you, please click here to contact a business development officer in your area.


1. Internal analysis completed using information from Morningstar Direct and the SEC.
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