BBH Global ETF Investor Survey: Investors Share ETF Allocation Plans in Face of Market Shifts

Interest rate environment drives appetite for fixed income ETFs

Investor use of robo-advisors to access ETFs triples year-over-year

Active ETFs gain ground with 92% of investors buying one in the last 12 months

BOSTON–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Market volatility and a challenging economic climate have been met with substantial shifts in how and where ETF investors are allocating their capital, according to the findings of Brown Brothers Harriman & Co.’s (BBH) 10th annual Global ETF Investor Survey. BBH is a global ETF-custodian and administrator.

The report, released today, captures responses from more than 300 institutional investors, fund managers, and financial advisors from the United States, Europe, and Greater China. In total, 40% of respondents had more than $1 billion in AUM.

Key Findings:

ETF allocations hold strong: Capital continues to pour into ETFs, with 89% of investors planning to increase (61%) or maintain (28%) their ETF allocations in the next 12 months. However, last year 84% planned to increase their allocations, marking a 23-percentage point drop.

Investors are leaning into the Fed’s pivot: Appetite for fixed income has grown in the current interest rate environment, with 46% of respondents expecting to increase their allocation to fixed income ETFs, and 40% expecting to allocate more to short duration fixed income ETFs.

Robo use has tripled: Use of robo-advisors to access ETF model portfolios almost tripled year-over-year, from 10% to 29%.

Investors are switching from mutual funds to active ETFs at pace: 92% of investors bought an active ETF in the last 12 months with 46% allocating capital from index mutual funds and 42% allocating capital from active mutual funds. 82% of investors plan to increase or maintain their exposures to active ETFs this year.

Crypto, digital asset interest remains in wake of crypto crash: Despite a tumultuous market and rapid decline in value, nearly half of investors still plan to add cryptocurrency and digital asset-themed ETFs to their portfolios this year, at a level roughly in line with 2022.

Volatility sparks demand for non-correlated assets: To manage risk and reduce the impact of volatility, 69% of global investors plan to maintain or increase allocations to commodity ETFs, while 76% plan to maintain or increase allocations to buffer/market neutral strategies.

Use of proprietary models grows: More than half of investors (57%) prefer utilizing a proprietary model over ETF issuer models when selecting ETFs.

“The macro uncertainty we continue to face has driven investors across type and geography to adapt their portfolios to add protection and capture opportunity. Our survey shows the power and versatility of the ETF toolbox investors now have at their disposal as the industry matures,” said Shawn McNinch, Global Head of ETFs at BBH.

“At its core, the data shows that investors continue to embrace ETFs as a vehicle of choice, with emerging categories such as active and fixed income continuing to gain ground. It also demonstrates that the way investors utilize ETFs is evolving, and asset managers and service providers must constantly adapt to meet these changing demands.”

Read the full report here:

Looking back on a decade of disruption and innovation

Today’s report marks the 10th anniversary of the BBH Global ETF Investor Survey. Since the first survey in 2013, the ETF market has grown 16% annually and changed the face of the asset management industry. ETFs have driven costs for investors down, increased transparency, and improved accessibility.

How investors approach the ETF market has shifted too:

Changing lens: Expense ratio, ETF issuer, and tax efficiency – in that order – are the three most important factors for investors when selecting ETFs in 2023. In 2013, the top three, in order, were exposure, ETF brand, and expense ratio.

All hail spreads: In 2023, 61% of investors say spreads are extremely or very important when selecting an ETF. By comparison, in 2013, only 2% of investors picked trading spreads as the most important factor when selecting an ETF, and 43% said spreads were the least important factor. This indicates the focus on trading and the impact of spreads to the total cost of ownership of an ETF.

Active has arrived: ETFs are no longer as synonymous with passive investing as they were in 2013. Over the last three years we have seen an impressive 52% annual growth rate bringing the active ETF space to $342bn AUM1.

Flight to safety: Today, 46% of investors plan to increase fixed income ETF allocations, versus 11% in 2013. Over the last 10 years, the number of fixed income ETFs to come to market has substantially increased, thus, investors now have more choices.

About Brown Brothers Harriman

BBH is an independent, global financial services firm founded in 1818 and headquartered in New York City. It counts among its clients institutions, privately-held companies, families and wealthy individuals which it serves through its three business lines: Investor Services, Investment Management and Private Banking. The firm is known for its exceptional client service and selectivity.

BBH’s Investor Services business provides cross-border custody, accounting, administration, execution and advanced technology services to many of the world’s leading asset managers and financial institutions. BBH’s Investment Management and Private Banking businesses manage public and private securities portfolios, advise banking clients on strategic direction, provide debt financing and banking services and offer trust and estate services.

BBH, including BBH Investor Services, operates in over 90 markets worldwide from 18 offices. BBH employs approximately 6,000 professionals. For more information, please visit