The Santa Monica-based fund company is certain as ever of its mission -- and even more successful

September 13, 2010 — 4:43 AM UTC by Brooke Southall


Brooke’s Note: I reached Michael Lane by cell phone in San Jose, Calif. last week where he had just wrapped up a meeting with Loring Ward, a TAMP that uses DFA funds in its products. I initially called him to learn details of his company’s new deal with an RIA-targeting annuity company, Jefferson National. But I also asked him for an update on his company, which some in the industry call a cult because of its ability to create lasting and lucrative relationships with certain advisors. I had written articles years ago about the company’s growth and wondered if it had continued.

It barely markets, makes no cold calls, turns away hundreds of advisors every year and won’t allow retail investors to buy its funds without the help of advisors.

Yet the growth rate of Dimensional Fund Advisors is the envy of every asset management company.

The Santa Monica, Calif.-based indexing juggernaut has already brought aboard about $5 billion of net new assets in 2010, which brings its total from RIAs to about $90 billion – an increase of $62 billion in the past six years. Those include some big firms. See: Giant DFA customer puts young CEO in charge to execute ambitious national plan

DFA’s growth is not the result of giant alpha achieved by clever stock picking or hedging. After all, it sells about 100 index-based funds that roughly mirror market averages.

But the company does offer what may be more valuable to advisors in the long haul – heavily-researched guidance on asset allocation that helps them determine how much stock to hold versus bonds, and how small or large, and how value- or growth-tilted the stocks should be.

Not a slave to indexing rules

Although it offers index funds, DFS is not a slave to indexing procedure. For instance, as the S&P 500 adds and drops shares from its list, the shares of those companies get overbought and oversold. DFA may hold off on transactions on those days.

This kind of wonky, well-thought out approach appeals to many advisors. Once accepted by DFA, they grow steadily more attached, sending more assets the firm’s way

“Financial advisors seek to add value to their clients beyond what they can do on their own and DFA helps them do this,” Charles “Chip” Roame, managing principal of Tiburon [Calif.] Strategic Advisors.

This message tends to sink in best when markets are worst and DFA’s academic methods propelled it from about $1 billion annually in net new assets to $10 billion after the tech bubble crashed, according to Lane. It has experienced a similar lift in its asset gathering since 2008, he adds.

Indexing boom

Of course, DFA has also forged a growth path during boom years and it may have index funds too thank for that. Passive investing has gained greater acceptance over the past decade. Larger financial advisors especially have been moving assets toward index funds, which explains the tremendous growth of State Street, Black Rock and other companies well-positioned in that market, Roame adds.

DFA isn’t the only company to embrace a high-touch approach, either, based on the testimony of these 10 fund wholesalers. See: 10 fund wholesalers and executives offer views about how they seek to add value for RIAs

Yet DFA approaches its service and marketing in a much more focused way.

DFA handpicks the advisors that it works with, an exclusivity that stems from its business philosophy of long-term investing and its determination to work with investors who don’t move assets in and out of its funds, according to Michael Lane, vice president of DFA. He oversees relationships with TAMPS, broker-dealers, banks and insurance companies.

“It’s really been our choice. We choose 14% of the advisors who contact us,” he says. [For information about how to be come a DFA-using advisor, see the comment left at the end of this article by Ron Rhoades.]

DFA raised its $90 billion of assets from a mere 1,350 RIA firms, a number that is only about 15% higher than it was in 2004. Eighty percent of DFA advisors have been around from two years to 20 years. Advisors in their first two years with the company contribute relatively few assets, Lane adds.

Among those 1,350 advisors, only a small percentage is truly driving asset growth, says Roame.

Beyond the old 80/20 rule

“The largest FAs control all the assets; it’s likely even beyond the old 80/20 rule,” says Charles “Chip” Roame, managing principal of Tiburon Strategic Advisors. “DFA gets [the advantages of] that while other firms run around trying to serve 10,000 financial advisors.”

See: Buckingham expedites turnkey 401(k) strategy by buying a fellow DFA TAMP

Indeed, less has proven to be more for DFA when it comes to numbers of relationships.

“The number of assets has tripled and the number of advisors has increased maybe 15%; we have much deeper relationships,” Lane says .

DFA also has chosen to target CPAs as a niche market, a prescient move, says Roame.

“CPAs continue to be an emerging market as do former CPAs morphing to be full-time financial advisors – and CPAs like low-cost tax-sensitive investing a la DFA,” he adds.

One example of this is St. Louis, Mo.-based Buckingham Asset Management LLC, which manages and administers about $12 billion of assets — largely invested in DFA funds.

Financial advisors are a receptive audience for a high-service approach that includes help running their portfolios and practices. “Service beats sales. DFA is adding people to serve, not to sell; selling happens by those served well,” says Roame.

DFA has invested heavily in this aspect of its business during the past two years.

Drastic staff increase

“We’ve drastically increased the size of our FA [training and consulting] group from 10 to 50 people,” says Lane. “We’re doing a lot more work with the financial advisory community.”

DFA recently forged a deal with Jefferson National because its advisors are seeking greater opportunities for tax deferral in the face of probable tax increases.

DFA’s connection to its advisors is so deep that some people in the industry call the firm a cult.

“They attract a certain type of RIA and they make them believe,” says Burton Greenwald, a Philadelphia-based mutual fund consultant, who sees a downside to DFA’s approach.

“By definition, you disregard a great universe of potential distributors, including virtually all the 800-pound gorilla distributors.”

John Bowen, CEO of CEG Worldwide, whose company has trained FAs who use DFA funds on behalf of the company, says that DFA is not so much cult-ish as a good, productive community.

“DFA has really stepped up this year [with its training and education],” he says. “People look at it as a cult. I really look at it that they built a community that’s delivering tremendous value.”

Sticks to its guns

A major reason that DFA sticks to its guns — in terms of what advisors it chooses and how it guides them to invest — is that it doesn’t want the returns on its funds adversely affected by inflows and outflows, Lane says. When funds suffer outflows in down markets, they are forced to finance the redemptions with sales of securities they might otherwise hold – resulting in a sell-low, buy-high death spiral of trading.

“We mitigate our risk,” he says.

DFA will likely never have market-smashing returns because it adheres to indexing, which is a way for investors to participate in the gains and losses of the markets. The company does take pains however to be sure it gets the most out of those indexes by keeping costs low [about the same prices as many ETFS] and refusing to engage in indexing behavior that it believes has a low probability of success.

Some of its funds have straightforward names like the US Core Equity 1 Portfolio or the DFA International Small Cap Value Portfolio but others — like the DFA Selectively Hedged Global Fixed Income Portfolio — show that the company may be applying more of its own intelligence.

Not an elite club

Despite the aura of exclusivity that hovers over DFA, it is not elite club that it sometimes appears to be, according to Lane.

“There’s no quota, no exclusivity; we have nothing like that,” Lane says. “It really comes down to each individual advisor. If 500 FAs came in tomorrow and they were all good advisors and met the standards and went through the process…” [they would be approved for investing client assets in DFA funds].

Still, the process and standards can be initially off-putting to advisors accustomed to having mutual fund companies falling all over them for their business.

Harold Evensky, president of Evensky & Katz LLC told CNBC for an earlier article about having to trek to seminars DFA sponsors at places such as the University of Chicago. “I remember way back when they told me you had to be approved that I was incensed,” he told the cable network. “But it’s not elitist criteria they’re pushing; it’s professional criteria.”

Mentioned in this article:

Tiburon Strategic Advisors
Consulting Firm
Top Executive: Charles Roame

Loring Ward
Top Executive: Alex Potts

Share your thoughts and opinions with the author or other readers.


Ron A. Rhoades, JD, CFP said:

September 14, 2010 — 12:59 AM UTC

Excellent article about an extremely good company. I don’t usually write about specific products, preferring instead to discuss the due dligence process or other aspects of adherence to a fiduciary adviser’s duties of due care, loyalty, and utmost good faith. But, I offer the following observations in this summary discussion of the application of our firm’s due dilgence, in hopes that advisors who are interested in furthering their research and due diligence can pick up one or two helpful hints.

Our firm has utilized Dimensional’s funds since our inception nine years ago. For stock funds and separate account management, Dimensional Funds Advisors (DFA) is nearly our exclusive choice. And DFA’s ever-broadening range of fixed income funds is compelling, as well. Why?

It all comes down to the RIA’s fiduciary duty. This requires the fiduciary investment adviser to ask herself or himself three questions.

First, is the investment strategy used for your clients sound? “[T]he degree of care, knowledge and skill expected of professional investment advisers … The prudence of the investment advice must be judged by objective standards. A manager’s personal beliefs are largely irrelevant when measuring his conduct against the conduct of a prudent, objective adviser … The accepted standard of professional performance is that which has 'substantial support as proper practice by the profession.’ Alternate courses of conduct engaged in by the few do not establish the standard.” Erlich v. First Nat. Bank of Princeton, 208 N.J.Super. 264, 505 A.2d 220 (N.J.Super.L., 1984).

How would you prove such adherence? By expert testimony. And under the standards governing the admission of expert testimony in federal and state courts (Daubert, Fyre), the expert testimony should be grounded in academic research, an analysis based upon historical data, or both. Mere opinions of the expert, not grounded in research or facts discerned through statistical analysis, are generally insufficient.

And that’s one aspect of the value Dimensional provides to investment advisers. All of the advisors approved to utilize its funds receive education on the academic underpinnings involving the firm’s approach, and each of the firm’s funds. And numerous white papers, other articles, and webinars are archived and made available on the firm’s web site, aiding in the investment adviser’s due diligence processes.

I’m not saying that advisors should accept Dimensional’s investment approach based on the materials they provide, alone. It is altogether necessary that, in matters of the selection of strategic vs. tactical asset allocation, and choice of investment asset classes to utilize, and how those asset classes should be combined, the advisor should consider much broader sources of academic research. The Social Science Research Network provides a great volume of papers relating to “financial economics,” as a starting place. Many others exist. And many sources of datas can be utilized by an adviser to back-test, through statistical analysis, investment strategies which appear to have some academic support.

Nor do I suggest that the overall investment strategies Dimensional provides education on is the only investment strategy investment advisers can provide to their clients. There are many approaches out there. However, only a few survive the test of time and academic scrutiny.

In particular, I note that there may be strategies, other than the use of Dimensional’s funds, that are more suited for EXTREMELY risk-averse investors who cannot tolerate volatility in the value of their portfolio.

Yet each alternative strategy should, in my view, possess academic support, if the investment adviser touts same as “sound” in any fashion. (If the strategy is based upon qualitative judgments about the economy, etc., that’s ok – just ensure clients understand the basis of, and limitations of, such judgments, and the risks involved, through adequate disclosure.)

Second question the adviser must ask, during the fiduciary investment process, is the choice of investment products. In other words, “What investment products are out there which best access the asset classes I desire to use in the construction of portfolios for my clients?” Answering this quesiton involves surveying the universe of investment products available. Of course, screens can be utilized to whittle down the number which deserve close scrutiny. But then it is incumbent upon the advisor to “lift the hood” and get into the details.

Here again, Dimensional shines. Take its DFA US Large Company Portfolio, essentially an S&P 500 Index Fund. As the article alludes to, this fund has (by a few basis points) exceeded the returns of the S&P 500 Index itself over the past few years. How? Trading strategies designed to take advantage of market-driven (or index-driven) events – and such trading strategies are based on academic research. And a conservative, but effective, securities lending strategy, adding many basis points to the returns of many of its funds.

In fact, nearly all of Dimensional’s funds don’t slavishly follow commercial indices (and hence are forced to trade at inopportune times, and worse yet telegraph in advance their trades). These “passive” stock funds often possess such low turnover, high securities lending revenue, and other ways of adding value during the trading processes, that their “total fees and costs” (both disclosed annual expense ratio, and transaction-within-the-fund costs, and opportunity costs due to cash holdings – which are usually kept very small) fall to 1-digit basis points, or even “negative.” In other words, “better than index funds” and “better than ETFs” as to their cost advantages, in most instances. How much better? Read further.

Another aspect of the real value-add lies in the design of its funds which seek to capture the value and small cap effects. Academic research has tested these effects over the past two decades repeatedly, using many different data sets, over various long periods of time. The effects are real. The explanation for the effects vary, with some explanations grounded in the inherent relationship between risk and return at the individual stock level, while others surmise that behavioral finance provides the better explanation. The truth probably lies in both camps, and perhaps, in some respects, with other factors. The logic behind the effects, however, appears (in my judgment, based upon my ongoing review of the academic research), to be sound – and such effects are likely to occur in the future. How likely? Perhaps an 80% or greater certainty over any 15-year period. I like such odds. And, with even longer term periods, the likelihood of positive contributions from the capturing of the value and small cap effects is even higher. The value and small cap premia show up in most long-term periods; since stock market investing is, in my view, a long-term endeavor, and the effects are long-term as well, there is a good match in combining the equity premium with the value and small cap premium.

How much is the value add so far? During our due dligence processes, we’ve projected, for a 100% stock fund portfolio, a long-term (15-year) value add of 1.25% to 2.75%, approximately, as our “best guess” of the prospective value add, taking into account asset class valuations at various points in time. That’s a 1.25% to 2.75% value add over the NEXT BEST FUND FAMILY. There is no guarantee of this value add, as alluded to before. But, again, we’ve seen this range of “value add” in the historical data, and in our forward-looking projections. Moreover, some of Dimensional’s newer strategies (Core Equity Portfolios) reduce transaction costs even further, resulting in even greater possible value-add over long periods of time, relative to portfolios constructed of non-DFA funds.

Another “value add” of Dimensional is through the use of its “tax aware” and “tax managed” stock mutual funds. Every good investment adviser knows that he or she can add 0.5% to 1.5% a year, in terms of reducing the long-term tax drag on a portfolio’s returns, relative to the portfolios new clients bring us (who usually have worked with the large broker-dealer firms).

All of this discussion only scratches the surface of the academic research demonstrating how Dimensional adds value, relative to the indices and index funds (however “low cost” such index funds may be). For more, visit

The third aspect of the fiduciary duty of care, in providing investment advice to individual clients, is discerning the needs of the client, and matching the investment strategy and the funds to the client’s needs. This is, of course, a one-on-one exercise with each client.

In summary, our firm has been extremely pleased to be able to offer Dimensional’s funds to our clients. If a better investment strategy, and/or better investment products, come along, we’ll certainly begin using same. But in nine years, and despite ongoing and periodic due diligence analysis of our investment strategies and investment product selection, few alternatives have even come close.

If, as an advisor, you are considering Dimensional’s funds, there are a couple of choices.

First, you may want to consider a turnkey provider, such as Buckingham Asset Management, Index Funds Advisors, DKE Advisor Services, or others. Many of these firms provide not only access to Dimensional but enhanced training and support to its advisors, including marketing training and support.

Alternatively, read up on Dimensional – including all of the articles on the public portion of its web site (and there are a lot) – see Formulate a good business plan. And then – and only then – contact Dimensional directly, to speak to one of their Regional Directors. They’ll ask good questions – on the investment strategy you seek to employ, why you desire to employ it, and your business plan. Armed with a good understanding of the Fama-French 3-Factor model, EMH, MPT, transaction costs which funds possess, and more – and armed with a good business (and marketing plan) – you’ll possess a good shot at joining the “14% club” mentioned in the article. If not, you can always choose to work with a turnkey provider which has access to DFA’s funds – BAM or one of many more out there.

As our profession’s sage, Harold Evensky, alluded to, being, or becoming, an advisor approved to access to Dimensional’s funds is not elitist – it’s the result of “professional criteria” which Dimensional looks for. In short, DFA’s investment philosophies, and investment products, survives the type of scrutiny a prudent fiduciary advisor should impose, before turning around and providing recommendations to the client.


Elmer Rich III said:

July 17, 2011 — 7:39 PM UTC

As professional marketers we have to express admiration of an exceptional relationship marketing strategy and set of tactics. This is very rare in service and professional businesses and even more rare in financial services.

It’s worth noting a few strategic themes: – Segmentation: Picking a niche. The financial services world and asset-gathering world is vast and growing exponentially. There are many different markets within this overall product category and specific niches. – Exclusivity and Specific Criteria: A company needs to set firms boundaries in products and partners. No firm can serve all comers. – Simplicity: As academic studies are proving — asset management is not especially complicated. Having a straightforward message and repeating it over and over is the key.

Finally, it is said the most important decision a business makes is whether they find themselves in a growth market or not. AUM is a very clear and simple indication of whether a market segment is growing. As Willi Sutton said: Go where the money is.


John O said:

December 4, 2011 — 4:46 PM UTC

The author kept repeating the term “indexing” confusing it with “passive” investing. Indexing is a specific form of passive investing. DFA has its unique approach to passive investing that is not indexing. It’s an important distinction because the two approaches are very different. based on this article, you would not recognize a difference between Vanguard and DFA.


Patrick F. said:

January 30, 2012 — 4:51 PM UTC

@ John O,
thank you for beating me to the punch in pointing out the difference between passive investing and mere indexing. This is a signfiicant point.


Rick Ferri said:

August 21, 2013 — 6:32 PM UTC

DFA does neither indexing nor passive investing. There are no indexes, hence it’s not indexing by default. They utilize a quantitative approach to sort, select, and trade securities so that the combine portfolio produces a targeted multi-factor risk profile. This is not passive investing.

Just setting the record straight. I use DFA funds also.


Brooke Southall said:

August 21, 2013 — 6:41 PM UTC

Hi Rick,

It’s more passive than active, right?



Rick Ferri said:

August 21, 2013 — 7:01 PM UTC

Hi Brooke,

Does it matter?

It doesn’t matter to David Booth. He’s said more than once that if you want to call it indexing, that’s fine; if you don’t, that’s fine. If you want to call it passive, that’s fine; if you want to call it active, that’s fine.

See your Thursday 7.14.11 article “Dimensional Fund Advisors tells RIAs it’s getting active in its quest for 401(k) assets” by Lisa Shidler; quoting David Booth, “We work so hard it’s a shame to call us passive.”

What matters is low-cost access to well managed multi-factor portfolios. It’s all about defining risks and calculating the per unit cost to access those risks. DFA does a pretty good in this category.



Brooke Southall said:

August 21, 2013 — 7:15 PM UTC

Hi Rick,

It sure doesn’t matter to me. My goal is just good communication. It may still be more helpful to refer to it as passive than active — even if there are a world of other factors tossed in. What “multi-factor” gains in accuracy is lost perhaps in its generic wording — along the lines of holistic wealth manager in terms of its catch-all nature.



Elmer Rich III said:

August 21, 2013 — 7:28 PM UTC

If human opinions determine the decision rules of an algorithms – how is that passive?

Computerizing human opinions is still active.


Rick Ferri said:

August 21, 2013 — 7:35 PM UTC


It’s not passive. But, as many ETF providers have since figured out, calling an active management strategy a passive indexing strategy has tremendous marketing appeal.



Elmer Rich III said:

August 21, 2013 — 8:03 PM UTC

Well, yeah lying is always effective, why it is so common, but out of bounds for professionals and regulated firms.

Supposedly, DFA is built of the passive theories of Fama. Computerized decision-making isn’t passive.


John O said:

August 21, 2013 — 8:19 PM UTC

I have to politely disagree. In DFA and in index funds, some stocks are being filtered out, whether by sophisticated statistically sound technique (DFA), or arbitrary lists (index) – both require an “active involvement of human beings” to do the filtering or list selection. Since that is the case, then I would hang my hat on diversification as measured by number of issues. The more stocks in the fund, the more passive it is, because it represents less “selection”. Are there any index funds covering a particular asset class that contain more issues than the corresponding DFA fund? Of course, we have to be fair in the comparison. My assumption (always dangerous) is NO. Therefore on my “passivity scale” – DFA is most passive.


Elmer Rich III said:

August 21, 2013 — 8:32 PM UTC

OK, so we are talking about a fund that is sorta passive? So ignore the fudge factor and call it “passive” in public? Passive is very clear and easy to define – it’s indexing. What’s to discuss?

The analogy is flawed. The index is the largest sample of possible data points therefore the most accurate of true current value. Any human intervention #1 has proven to lead to losses and #2 -destroys the whole point of the academic evidence for passive on which DFA has based it’s business and business claims.

They certainly have a right to do that, but facts are facts. There is also truth in advertising.

BTW, what is a sophisticated statistically sound technique?”


John O said:

August 21, 2013 — 9:04 PM UTC

Certainly compared to most active funds the corresponding index list is the larger list. But my assumption is that in most cases the DFA fund has more stocks. If we define 100% passive as owning every possible company then, yes, both DFA and index are semi-passive. My argument is in most, maybe all, asset classes DFA owns more comianies than corresponding index. Could a passive expert speak up with specifics?


Brooke Southall said:

August 21, 2013 — 9:11 PM UTC


I’m glad for Rick’s challenge here but I’m with you, John, in using common sense, broad-brush thinking.

Saying a tomato is fruit is interesting and instructive but i’m not sure it helps make a better fruit salad.



Rick Ferri said:

August 21, 2013 — 9:15 PM UTC

John O:

If a broad cap-weighted portfolio such as the Russell 3000 is a passive index, then a broad fundamentally weighted portfolio of the same 3000 stocks cannot be a passive index. Nor can a portfolio that screens out 1,000 of the 3,000 stocks because they don’t hit certain fundamental filters.

So, what is passive and what is active. I’ve had this conversation with many people over the years. The general consciousness is the “passive is in the eye of the beholder.” Cap-weighted total stock and bond market indexes are considered passive by most everyone. After that, what one person considers passive may be active to someone else.

I don’t think semantics matter as long as we all understand what is going on in a fund and why a manager is doing what he or she is doing. This is more clear in index funds because the index is transparent (caveat: the indexes in new self-indexing ETFs are going to be anything but transparent). However, do we really know what DFA is buying or selling or why? Does it matter? We know they have sound philosophy and strategy, and that’s good. But it is not a transparent process.

FWIW, I use a mix of low-cost beta seeking index funds from Vanguard and add DFA small-value funds to this beta base. This methodology creates a factor titled portfolio where I control the factor loads (rather than DFA) and it’s cheaper for the client. That being said, I’m also fine with a three-fund DFA portfolio; US Core Equity 2 Portfolio, Intl. Core Equity Portfolio and Emerging Markets Core Portfolio.

It’s all good.



Elmer Rich III said:

August 21, 2013 — 10:10 PM UTC

Semi-passsive is not passive – why pretend otherwise? This is people’s and organization’s assets – not fruit salad.

This is not a matter of semantics but a matter of fact.

Our laws and regulations say business statements must be truthful. Is that up for debate!?


John O said:

August 22, 2013 — 4:07 PM UTC

OK, so…..some hard core definitions for you

Passive: you must own EVERY stock, at all times, to the end of time.

Active: you must trade EVERY stock, either buy or sell, at least once per… (I’ll be nice) ..week.

Now there are no longer ANY active or passive funds since no one meets that criteria – we can drop the designations forever.

Have a great Thursday.


Elmer Rich III said:

August 22, 2013 — 4:16 PM UTC

No, there are accepted industry indexes for passive and have been fore decades.

If you are making statements and promises to clients – they must be fact based.


Rick Ferri said:

August 22, 2013 — 4:18 PM UTC

Yes, but you forgot about the definition of an index.

Old definition – a measure of broad market value

New definition – any list of securities put together in any way – based on self-indexing rules released by the SEC this month.

Thus, all mutual funds and ETF are now index funds.


John O said:

August 22, 2013 — 4:28 PM UTC

Elmer: Please post:

which industry organization created the passive definition to which you refer?
what is the title/number of the standard?
please provide a link to it
this must be “fact-based” as you said.

From a practical point of view – since DFA more thoroughly covers asset classes than the corresponding index – they are better representation of an asset class than the index. There are thousands and thousands of indexes by the way. So if you are to say that there is something magic about an index – now you have to evaluate them and decide which is the “official index” for each asset class. Now there’s a fun job!


Elmer Rich III said:

August 22, 2013 — 4:29 PM UTC

There are publicly accepted indexes. Sales claims about definitions are irrelevant.

The central claim of the theory is that human behaviors detract from performance and are to be eliminated as much as possible. So the accepted indices are used. Human opinions built into computer programs challenge the theory.

“Self-indexing” contradicts the theory developed from academic research. It is a marketing accommodation, supported by the SEC. The decades of academic research supports public indexes. There is no research to support “self-indexing.”


Rick Ferri said:

August 22, 2013 — 4:35 PM UTC


It get worse.

The SEC action on permitting anything to be an index (strategy indexes and self-indexing) contradicts their own definition of an index:

“An “index fund” describes a type of mutual fund or unit investment trust (UIT) whose investment objective typically is to achieve approximately the same return as a particular market index, such as the S&P 500 Composite Stock Price Index, the Russell 2000 Index or the Wilshire 5000 Total Market Index.”

Rick Ferri


John O said:

August 22, 2013 — 4:38 PM UTC

and the SEC’s definition is appropriate. Who is to say that the S&P500 is the best index to measure large US companies? Is there something magic about that S&P conference room as the decisions to drop and add a few companies to the index are made? Does that room grant special powers of wisdom to the folks inside it making those decisions? No. they did it first, got the notoriety, that’s it.


John O said:

August 22, 2013 — 4:43 PM UTC

Elmer: the indexes are based on “human opinions”! They do not come from a financial God on High written on stone tablets! When I describe an index, I describe “a bunch of yahoos sitting in a conference choosing companies from a list”! And that’s exactly what it is. (with great deference to the yahoos, of course!) :)

How do lists somehow escape human opinions? Humans make those lists!


Rick Ferri said:

August 22, 2013 — 4:45 PM UTC

The SEC isn’t saying the S&P 500 is the best measure of large companies. They’re saying an “index” represents “market.” Not any more.

It’s appropriate for the SEC to change their definition on their website because the public will be confused (as if they aren’t already). They should state that an “index” is any list of securities that forms a portfolio. That what it is today, pathetically.


John O said:

August 22, 2013 — 4:56 PM UTC

i didn’t say that SEC thinks that. my point is that indexes are simply lists. the S&P500 gets a lot of notoriety. One could argue how it arrived there. Now if some credible organization came up with a credible process for either “certifying” an index or creating one themselves that was deemed “best” for representing a particular asset class – wouldn’t that be wonderful? (maybe not?)


Elmer Rich III said:

August 22, 2013 — 5:07 PM UTC

Fama’s work was the supposed basis for DFA. The representativeness of groups of securities is an empirical, academic, researchable question – not a matter of regulations.

You can’t regulate this – it’s a research and empirical question. The technical, professional actions are entirely separate from the communications of the products to the public.

Of course, humans chose but the fewer the better and least frequently – based on the research.

The theory says remove human behaviors as much as possible.


John O said:

August 22, 2013 — 5:17 PM UTC

Elmer – so how do you remove the human behaviors from the indexes? How often you revise the list has no bearing. How many are involved has no bearing. Humans makes those lists! Just think of all the politics going on inside those companies as folks want their favorites to make the list!

So execute your theory on indexes. Right now they are off the table based on your own definition!

By the way, if your problem is computer programs written by humans, well – i am sure the people that actively pick the companies to be included in the list have mucho computer involvement! (along with all the human emotion)

There are no passive indexes or funds if human involvement must be eliminated. And if human involvement must be removed as much as possible – well, good luck putting a measurement together on THAT! Talk about grey area!!

Where is SPOCK when you need him!!! I bet Spock could pick this list devoid of all human behavior!


Elmer Rich III said:

August 22, 2013 — 5:37 PM UTC

These are empirical, data-based, factual questions not a matter of definitions or regulations. Vast amount of resources are spent on this topic. Do some research on google, what does the data say?

The actual theory base is that (active) human investment behaviors are far worse than other selection and timing mechanism. This follows other research on human “decision making” and systematic errors. For examples, doctors with simple checklists or decision rules do far better.

Total elimination is impossible but the research argues for as little as possible.


John O said:

August 22, 2013 — 5:44 PM UTC

If you stand behind this grey area, then you will have to come up with a way to measure it. Which list was developed with “most elimination of human behavior”. Wow! Ha, ha, measure that one! That’s too big for a 1,000 page book, or a Ph.D. dissertation….. Impossible to measure! you can talk all you want – but you have to put some quantification on it. Otherwise, all hot air… you cannot just talk about it and state your opinions of what situation has “most elimination of human behavior”.....


Elmer Rich III said:

August 22, 2013 — 6:50 PM UTC

It’s easy since every action is computerized.


John O said:

August 22, 2013 — 6:57 PM UTC

provide a quantitative analysis of what list-making effort has the “most elimination of human behavior” – since it is easy, let’s see it…


Elmer Rich III said:

August 22, 2013 — 7:20 PM UTC

DFA is making a sales claim that they can add value by inserting human decisions. 1 – There is no independent evidence for that, 2- It contradicts all the academic research.

What is a fiduciary to make of that claim?


Rick Ferri said:

August 22, 2013 — 7:45 PM UTC

Whether DFA adds value is really irrelevant when an adviser who uses DFA is charging 1% for access. Net, net, the clients of a 1% adviser are much better off self-managing in a few low-cost Vanguard index funds. I’ve always found this hypocritical where an adviser espouses the virtues of using DFA because their fees are low and then slams the client with a high adviser fee.


sibyl auten said:

October 24, 2016 — 5:33 AM UTC

You hit the nail on the head. I need help with this too! By the way, if anyone is facing a problem of filling NH DHHS DFA Form 800MA, I've found a template here You also can esign the form and fax it.

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