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How to Assess a Fund without a Ticker

A reader writes in, asking:

“My 401-k at work has several funds with no ticker symbols, so I cannot find information about them online, not even at Morningstar. The booklet about the plan that I got at my orientation does describe the funds though. What should I look for? And why don’t they have tickers?”

Most likely, these investment options without ticker symbols are actually “collective investment trusts” or “separate accounts.” In other words, these investment options are probably not mutual funds at all, though the basic idea is the same (i.e., a professionally managed pool of money from many investors).

Because these products are not offered directly to retail investors, they have no ticker symbols and different regulatory guidelines. Still, you want to know the same basic pieces of information that you would want to know about a mutual fund. That is, you want to know:

  • What index the product tracks (if any),
  • What the costs are for the product, and
  • What is in the product’s portfolio (i.e., its asset allocation).

This information should be available in your plan documents. (If it isn’t, get in touch with your HR department.)

Because these types of investment options have a lesser degree of transparency than plain-old mutual funds, I’d also make a point of checking the published performance figures to make sure they’re what they should be. That is, if the investment option is designed to track a specific index, I would try to find the performance data for that index (or for another fund that tracks that index) and then compare that performance to the performance figures for this investment option that are disclosed in your plan documents. You don’t want any surprises down the road from finding out that the trust or account isn’t actually doing a good job of tracking what you thought it was tracking.

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