Goldman Sachs files for active ETFs, joins Wall Street bank trend

Goldman Sachs has laid the groundwork to launch actively managed exchange-traded funds, becoming the latest Wall Street bank to set its sights on the fast-growing market.

The company late on Friday sought permission from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to introduce what could be a series of active ETFs, according to the filing, which names an equity dividend ETF as its initial fund.

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Goldman separately filed late on Friday for regulatory approval to self-index, which would allow Goldman to launch funds based on their own proprietary indexes created in-house.

Goldman Sachs signage on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Jin Lee | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Goldman Sachs signage on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

They're kind of covering all of their bases," giving the firm broad leeway to design and introduce a variety of ETF products, said Ben Johnson, a Chicago-based analyst with Morningstar.

Goldman in July shifted a key executive to help grow its ETF product strategy, but otherwise has been largely quiet on its plans to expand into the ETF space.

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The company five years ago filed for permission to launch passive index-tracking ETFs, but never introduced any funds. Friday's filing was the first to mark its foray into the active ETF space.

Goldman Sachs spokeswoman Andrea Raphael confirmed the filings, but declined to comment on them more specifically. "We are excited" about the July decision to name 19-year industry veteran Michael Crinieri to lead the ETF effort, she said.

The initial fund named in the filing, the Goldman Sachs Equity Dividend Fund will primarily invest in dividend-paying U.S.-listed equities, according to the filing.

Wall Street banks wade in

The Goldman filings come as some of Wall Street's biggest banks have begun wading into the exchange-traded funds market.

JPMorgan Chase in June launched its first ETF and already plans to bring more funds to market, while Wells Fargo received regulatory permission in August to offer ETFs.

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The move is seen by some as a defensive play by banks with their own wealth management clients. The banks can use their own ETFs to hold onto assets of customers showing some willingness to abandon traditional mutual funds and move into the $1.9 trillion U.S. ETF market, which has more than doubled in the past five years.

"You're increasingly seeing that cannibalization is less of a concern than the outright loss of those assets," Johnson said, pointing to one of the concerns of mutual fund providers that has kept some from offering their strategies in ETF form.

Unlike the biggest ETF providers—BlackRock, State Street, and Vanguard, who together account for about 70 percent of the market—banks are putting more emphasis on their existing active investing capabilities.

The asset management businesses of Goldman, JPMorgan, and Wells Fargo are already among the largest in the country, according to Thomson Reuters Lipper.