Free Trial

What is a management fee?

What is a management fee?

Summary - Management fees are fees that an investor pays indirectly to an investment manager in exchange for the investment manager’s expertise in selecting the stocks or other securities that make up a particular investment fund (mutual fund, ETF, etc.). Management fees are different from performance fees (also called incentive fees). While a performance fee, by definition, requires the fund to reach certain performance objectives, the management fee is simply based on the fund’s assets under management (AUM). For an investor with $400,000 in a fund with a 0.5% management fee, they will pay $2,000 in fees.

Fees and expenses, such as a management fee, can have a significant impact on a fund's total return. Even retirement accounts are not exempt from management fees, so investors should be sure to talk with their financial advisor about the total fees and expenses that are associated with a fund. In general, an actively managed fund will charge a higher management fee than a fund that is passively managed. In the case of the actively managed fund, an investment manager is actively looking to outperform the market or a particular index. This can lead to higher, and more frequent turnover inside the fund. Passively managed funds, by contrast, are only looking to meet the performance of the market or an index. Numerous studies have shown that a passively managed fund, in many cases, will outperform an actively managed fund. However, actively managed funds still are attractive to some investors and can provide higher short term results for some investors.

Although sometimes used synonymously with the fund’s management expense ratio (MER), the management fee is just one component of the MER which includes other operating costs associated with the fund. The management fee is also separate from transaction fees associated with buying and selling stocks known as the trading expense ratio (TER). The management fee is also independent of a load (front-end or back-end) that an investor will pay when they buy or redeem fund shares.


They say in life the only sure things are death and taxes. When it comes to investing in a mutual fund or exchange-traded fund that statement might be amended to read, the only sure things are fees and costs. While no fund can, or will, guarantee they will achieve a certain level of performance, they are sure to have fixed costs. Over time, these can eat into the total return of a fund. One of the standard fees that every fund charges is the management fee. The management fee is not based on performance nor is it based on whether a fund is actively or passively managed. It is, in effect, a fee for services rendered by the investment manager. In this article, we’ll go into detail about what, and how much, the management fee is. We’ll also look at how the management fee is different from other fees and expenses charged by a fund.

What is a management fee?

A management fee is a compensation that is charged by an investment manager for their role in managing an investment fund. The investment manager is responsible for selecting the securities that make up the fund as well as the work they do in managing an investor’s portfolio. Management fees can also help funds cover operating costs that are not covered by other fees and expenses of the fund. The management fee is always paid by the investor. Examples of investment funds include mutual funds, hedge funds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), and money market funds. Management fees are also called maintenance fees.

How much is a management fee?

A management fee can be between 0.5 percent and 2 percent of the fund’s assets under management (AUM). This means that the investment manager for a mutual fund that holds $ 1 billion of AUM, can receive millions of dollars. An individual investor with $200,000 invested a fund could pay up to $4,000 in management fees.

The amount of a management fee is set by the fund. A money market will have among the lowest management fee. Mutual funds and ETFs can have maintenance fees that range widely based on the type of fund and the way the fund is managed. For example, an actively managed mutual fund means that the investment manager is actively trying to make sure the fund outperforms a benchmark index, such as the S&P 500. A passively managed fund, such as an index fund, is seeking to match the performance of an index. Because an actively managed fund will frequently turn over the fund assets in search of profitable trading opportunities, it makes sense that the actively managed fund may require more trading, and therefore result in a higher management fee.

A hedge fund, by contrast, has among the highest management fees. It is common for hedge funds to have a two and twenty fee arrangement. This arrangement highlights the difference between a management fee and a performance fee.

How is a management fee different from a performance fee?

A management fee is completely separate from a performance fee. A performance fee is paid to an investment manager when, and if, the fund they are managing generates positive returns. A performance fee may also be called an incentive fee. However, an incentive fee is typically linked to a specific level of performance, such as having the fund outperform a benchmark index. The management fee is paid to the investment manager regardless of, and independent from, the fund’s performance. A management fee is considered an indirect cost because it is based on the assets under management (AUM) and not based on the performance of the fund.

It is common for hedge funds to set up incentive fees based on a hurdle rate and the fund’s high water mark. The high water mark is the highest value that an investment fund or account has ever reached. The hurdle rate is the percentage that a fund’s returns must achieve in order to charge an incentive fee. If a fund has both a hurdle rate and a high water mark, the fund must clear the high water mark and the hurdle rate in order for investment managers to collect an incentive fee.

By understanding the difference between a management fee and a performance fee, let’s take another look at hedge funds that have a 2 and 20 arrangement. In this arrangement, the fund charges a 2% management fee based on the fund’s AUM. The fund also charges a 20% incentive fee if the fund achieves a profit that surpasses a predefined benchmark. (NOTE: hedge funds are typically the domain of institutional investors. Most individual investors do not have the resources to participate in a hedge fund).

Do actively managed funds perform better than passively managed funds?

This is an ongoing debate among investment professionals. There is evidence to suggest that passively managed funds perform no worse, and in many cases, outperform actively managed funds. This is based on what is called the efficient market hypothesis (EMH). According to the EMH, a stock price fully reflects all the information that is available to investors as well as the analysts’ expectations for future performance. This hypothesis is in direct contrast to the role of the active manager who is looking to use market inefficiencies to select stocks that have the potential to beat a market or index.

In fact, because price movements are considered to be more or less random events, the EMH implies that an active manager cannot consistently beat the market over a long period of time. Nobel laureate William Sharpe conducted research and came to the conclusion that “After costs, the return on the average actively managed dollar will be less than the return on the average passively managed dollar for any time period”. Sharpe went on to conclude that in order for active fund managers to beat the market by 1%, they would need to have returned in excess of 2% just to cover an average maintenance fee of 1.19 percent.

However, many investors still appreciate the benefits that can come from an actively managed fund - particularly younger investors who prioritize fund performance and are willing to accept the risk of losing money that comes with a more active and aggressive trading approach. Actively managed funds can also be attractive to inexperienced investors who don’t have the time or inclination to actively select their particular asset mix.

Nevertheless, when considering the total expense of owning a fund, a management fee is one of the most significant costs that can affect a fund’s performance. An investor needs to ensure that the fund’s performance is sufficiently making up for what they are paying in their management fee.

Where does a management fee fit in with other fees?

Management Expense Ratio (MER) -The management fee is not the same as the fund's management expense ratio (MER). It is, however, one component of the MER. A fund will also have operating fees that, together with the management fee, make up the MER. The MER includes, but is not limited to the following services and expenses:

  • Administrative costs
  • Marketing costs
  • Employee salaries
  • Legal, custodial and audit fees
  • Research and analytic support
  • Continuous professional portfolio management
  • Costs associated with the regulatory commissions
  • Fund valuation costs

As we mentioned above, the fee structure of a mutual fund or ETF is a significant expense for investors. The Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) requires fund companies to list their fees in the fund’s prospectus. However, there is latitude to how they report them. To illustrate this, let’s look at this hypothetical example.

Company ABC reports a management fee of 0.35 percent and total annual operating expenses of 1.09 percent. Although the company does not directly call out their MER, it is fairly easy to calculate. In this example, you would add the management fee to the annual operating expenses to come up with an MER of 1.44 percent.

Trading Expense Ratio - In addition to the MER, a management fee does not include the cost of buying and selling a security inside the fund. This cost, although typically very small, is covered in the trading expense ratio (TER). Since this is a charge based on trading, the more actively traded a fund is, the higher this ratio will be.

Front-End or Back-End Load– Loads are sales charges that investors pay when they buy or redeem shares.

The investment manager is different from an investor’s financial advisor. For example, an investor’s financial advisor will help the investor choose their asset allocation and ensure that their overall portfolio matches their investment goals and risk tolerance. The financial advisor receives compensation for this service. However, this compensation is not the same thing as the management fee.

The management fee is paid to the investment manager of the particular fund(s) that an investor selects for their portfolio. One of the many benefits of participating in an investment fund is that the investor does not have to research or select the securities that make up the fund. That is the role of the fund’s investment manager.

The final word on management fees

Investing in mutual funds and exchange-traded funds is one of the more popular investment management strategies for investors of all levels. One of the attractions of these funds is that individual investors do not have to be concerned with selecting the underlying securities that make up the fund. However, someone has to make these selections. In the case of an investment fund, that someone is the investment manager who charges a management fee for their service. The management fee is one part of the fee structure that can eat into an investor’s total return in an investment fund. The management fee is an indirect cost that an investor will pay to an investment manager in exchange for the manager’s expertise in selecting the stocks or other securities that make up the fund’s composition. The management fee is generally between 0.5% and 2% and is based on assets under management, not performance. The more money an investor has in a fund, the higher the management fee. To help keep their management fee low, investors can choose to invest in a passively managed fund which seeks to match the performance of the market or index and, as such, is different from an actively managed fund that has more turnover within the fund portfolio.

Where should you invest $1,000 right now?

Before you make your next trade, you'll want to hear this.

MarketBeat keeps track of Wall Street's top-rated and best performing research analysts and the stocks they recommend to their clients on a daily basis.

Our team has identified the five stocks that top analysts are quietly whispering to their clients to buy now before the broader market catches on... and none of the big name stocks were on the list.

They believe these five stocks are the five best companies for investors to buy now...

See The Five Stocks Here

Ten Starter Stocks For Beginners to Buy Now Cover

Just getting into the stock market? These 10 simple stocks can help beginning investors build long-term wealth without knowing options, technicals, or other advanced strategies.

Get This Free Report
Like this article? Share it with a colleague.

Featured Articles and Offers

Recent Videos

Unlock Growth: Understanding Dividend Yield
Palantir Stock Excluded from S&P 500: Still a Buy?
GameStop Mania: Which Meme Stocks Will Follow?

Stock Lists

All Stock Lists

Investing Tools

Calendars and Tools

Search Headlines