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What is an Active Index Fund?

Unleashing the Potential of Active Index Funds

When it comes to index funds, the traditional approach has been to passively track an index, aiming to replicate its performance as closely as possible. However, there is another breed of funds known as active index funds that take a slightly different approach, combining the benefits of passive indexing with active portfolio management. In this article, we delve into the world of active index funds and explore their potential to deliver greater returns than their underlying benchmarks.

Understanding Active Index Funds

At their core, active index funds start by constructing an initial investment portfolio using holdings from a benchmark index. However, what sets them apart is their ability to add securities that are unrelated to the underlying index or remove existing index components. This additional layer of non-benchmark securities allows the fund manager to apply active management techniques, aiming to enhance portfolio performance beyond a traditional buy-and-hold passive strategy.

By incorporating individual stocks that are disconnected from the broader index, active index fund managers seek to unlock additional alpha. This means they aim to generate excess returns above the benchmark index. Active index funds may employ different strategies, such as tilting the portfolio towards specific sectors or factors, or utilizing a smart beta approach to exploit relative mispricings while still adhering primarily to the index.

The Advantages of Active Index Funds

Active index funds offer several potential advantages to investors seeking a middle ground between purely passive and actively managed funds:

  1. Enhanced Returns: By incorporating active management techniques, active index funds have the potential to outperform their underlying benchmarks. The ability to selectively add or remove securities allows fund managers to capitalize on market inefficiencies and seek higher returns.

  2. Diversification with a Twist: Active index funds provide diversification benefits by tracking a benchmark index. However, the additional layer of active management allows for strategic allocation to specific securities that may be expected to outperform the broader market.

  3. Flexibility and Adaptability: Active index funds have the advantage of being able to adjust their holdings based on market conditions and investment opportunities. This flexibility enables fund managers to react to changing market dynamics and capitalize on emerging trends.

  4. Transparency and Accessibility: Similar to traditional index funds, active index funds offer transparency in terms of their underlying holdings and investment strategy. They are also readily accessible to individual investors, providing them with the opportunity to benefit from active management strategies that were traditionally available only to institutional investors.

Considerations and Potential Drawbacks

While active index funds offer potential advantages, it's important to be aware of their potential drawbacks:

  1. Underperformance: Despite the active management component, active index funds may still underperform purely passive index funds. The success of active management strategies relies on the skill and expertise of the fund manager, and there is no guarantee that they will consistently outperform the benchmark index.

  2. Fees and Expenses: Active index funds typically charge higher management fees compared to traditional passive index funds. Investors need to carefully assess whether the potential benefits of active management justify the additional costs.

  3. Tax Considerations: Active trading within the fund's portfolio can generate more taxable events compared to passive index funds, potentially impacting an investor's after-tax returns. It's important to consider the tax implications of active management strategies.

Active index funds offer investors a unique blend of passive indexing and active management. By combining the benefits of tracking a benchmark index with the potential for enhanced returns through active strategies, these funds aim to provide investors with the best of both worlds. However, it's crucial for investors to carefully evaluate the track record, investment approach, fees, and tax implications of active index funds before making investment decisions. As with any investment, thorough research and consideration of one's investment goals and risk tolerance are essential for building a well-rounded portfolio.


Most index funds are known for using a completely passive strategy to track an index, but some take a more active approach.

Some mutual funds track an index by passively using algorithms to buy the shares necessary to build a portfolio which closely replicates an index. Such a fund will have low turnover, will only rebalance slightly based on the market cap or other criteria set forth in the prospectus, and will basically ride out all of the ups and downs of the index in a blind faith for the efficient market hypothesis.

This hypothesis states that you can’t outdo the market, because all of the self-serving, rational investors in the world will price in all known information day to day, and that the most efficient way to profit from the market is the buy and hold a broad index which captures all of the knowledge of the market makers and investors working together, essentially, to identify the best, most efficient companies.

Over the long haul, this may work, but there are plenty of impatient investors among us. Active fund managers seek to outperform the market by using the wealth of resources and research available to them.

Unfortunately their wealth of resources partially comes from a wealth of fees built into their funds. Still, plenty of active managers succeed in outdoing the indexes, if only for short amounts of time. If an investor is more interested in the short-term, this may be something he or she would like to be a part of.

Active managers will sometimes choose an index to base a fund on, and will acquire all the shares necessary to replicate the index, and then will also pick and choose what they believe to be winning strategies and stocks to invest in, as they attempt to out-do the index.

What are Actively-Managed ETFs?
What is Active Trading?
What is the Difference Between Active and Passive Money Management?

 Disclaimers and Limitations

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