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Fee Speech: Signalling and the Regulation of Mutual Fund Fees

Authors: Das, Sanjiv Ranjan
Sundaram, Rangarajan K.
Issue Date: 4-Apr-1999
Series/Report no.: FIN-99-085
Abstract: The Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (as amended in 1970) prohibits mutual funds in the US from offering their advisers asymmetric "incentive fee" contracts in which the advises are rewarded for superior performance via-a-vis a chosen index but are not correspondingly penalized for underforming it. The rationale offered in defense of the regulation by both the SEC and Congress is that incentive fee structures of this sort encourage "excessive" risk-taking by advisers. Apart from affecting portfolio selection incentives, however, the fee structure also influences equilibrium welfare levels in two other important ways: (a) through its risk-sharing properties, and (b) through its potential at conveying information about the adviser's abilities. This paper examines a signalling model with multiple funds and multiple risky securities in which all of these effects are present. We find the incentives fees do, as alleged, lead to more (and suboptimal) risk-taking than do symmetric "fulcrum fees." Nonetheless, taking into account the other roles of the fee structure, we find under robust conditions that investors may actually be strictly better off from a welfare standpoint under asymmetric incentives fee structures. In summary, we do not find much justification for the regulation.
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