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Apple Not Biting On ETFs


You're sure you read it right: Apple was to launch an "all-ETF 401(k) plan" for its employees.

You might have read it right. But it was wrong. The buzz around Apple Inc.'s supposed adoption of Charles Schwab's exchange-traded fund 401(k) platform is much ado about nothing.

Initial reports about Apple's foray into ETFs stemmed from a Bloomberg podcast that talked about the "ETFs in 401(k)s" panel held at the IndexUniverse Inside ETF conference in Florida in January.

"For some reason-and we really have no idea-the reporter on that podcast, Catherine Cowdery, who was not at our conference to our knowledge, concluded that 'Apple apparently has an all ETF 401(k) plan,'" wrote IndexUniverse director of research David Nadig, in a June 7 follow-up piece.

"No source, no citation, and I can assure you, Apple wasn't at our conference, and their name didn't come up on the panel, which was moderated by our own Olly Ludwig."

Well, that probably explains why spokespeople for Apple and Charles Schwab did not return calls for comments on the non event.

But that still leaves unanswered the question of whether or not retirement plans are ready to open their kimonos to ETFs, which is bad news for Schwab. The San Francisco-based firm is planning to launch in 2013 an ETF platform version of the Schwab Index Advantage, a passive mutual fund retirement platform that will use only index-based exchange-traded funds.

Eric Hazard, a spokesman for the firm, said Schwab is building out its own recordkeeping platform for both the Index Advantage and the ETF platforms.

Apple aside, some plan sponsors are just not jumping on index-based plans just yet. Brenda Biggers, Manager, Retirement and Leave Programs at Stock Building Supply 401k Savings Plan, a $188 million plan serving some 4,300 participants, said the ETF platform is just simply "not on our radar."

A Schwab plan sponsor client, which manages some $41 million in 401(k) assets for 980 participants, said that "there are no immediate plans to add any new funds to the line-up." However, Richard Davies, Managing Director - Defined Contribution at Russell Investments, said that "At the end of the day in the 401(k) world, the lowest cost approach to accessing an investment strategy should win."