Given that the purchaser is Legal & General, you might think the acquisition is all about expanding L&G's plain vanilla passive investing business into ETFs. After all, the L&G UK Index fund is one of the best- known index funds in the UK, and L&G clearly has plenty of expertise in index investing. But it doesn't have any ETFs.
However, L&G's emphasis today isn't on plain vanilla. Instead the plan is to use ETF Securities' Canvas white-label platform to launch new thematic and factor-based ETFs. Chad Ravkin, head of the global index business at L&G, told me: 'thematic investing and factor-based strategies will definitely be the focus of new products that come on the platform.'
Ravkin also told me that L&G is a much bigger player in Smart Beta than I had realised. The company's 'factor-based book' is over ¬£40 billion which represents around a third of the total market. Yet none of that money is held in mutual funds or ETFs; it's mostly in pension mandates. So Ravkin argues that L&G has a real expertise in factor-based investing, and today's deal gives L&G the platform to bring that expertise to retail investors.
The Canvas platform isn't the only attraction though. ETF Securities has had a huge success over the last year or so with its Robo Global Robotics and Automation UCITS ETF which now has around 1.7 billion dollars in assets under management. That figure was just $120 million a year ago.
In total, Canvas has about $2.7 billion under management so the Robo ETF is clearly a hugely important part of the business. The success of the Robo ETF is all the more impressive given that they've launched unsuccessful thematic ETFs in the past - including a coal mining ETF around ten years ago.
It's also worth noting that L&G is excited about opportunities in Europe. Simon Hynes, head of EMEA retail distribution said: 'We are a very UK centric business..etfs really help us to go for clients in Europe where there is still a lot of appetite for index in a mutual fund wrapper, but a lot more excitement and noise around the ETF wrapper.'
Has L&G left it too late?
The big question for me is whether L&G has left it too late for its move into ETFs. The ETF market is already dominated by three big players (Vanguard, iShares and State Street) and it will be tough for L&G to compete even though it has a sizeable non-ETF investment business. L&G's big advantage here is that it has a big multi-asset business so as Peter Sleep of 7 Investment Management told me: 'it can be its own customer.' That could help L&G get new products over the $100 million mark and build sustainable funds.
We don't know the price that L&G has paid but Sleep said: 'it looks like L&G has picked up a specialist business cheaply.'
It will be fascinating to see how L&G does. With a strong brand and retail following, I suspect the firm may find it a bit easier to break into the European ETF market than some other recent entrants such as Franklin Templeton.