Are ETFs passively managed? An inside look

The world of finance and investment is complex, teeming with diverse products designed to suit varying investment preferences. One such product that has steadily increased in popularity is the Exchange-Traded Fund (ETF). Before diving deep into the intricacies of ETFs, it’s crucial to clarify whether these funds are passively managed and understand how they work.

An ETF is an investment fund in Hong Kong and an exchange-traded product available for purchase on a securities exchange. ETFs are similar to mutual funds in Asia but trade like a common stock on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. These investment products experience price changes throughout the day as they are bought and sold, providing convenience and liquidity to investors.

Passive management in ETFs

The majority of ETFs are passively managed. They follow a specific index, such as the S&P 500, and aim to replicate its performance. This type of fund is known as an index ETF. As a passive investment strategy, index ETFs do not rely on active management or stock picking by a fund manager. Instead, they hold the same securities in the same proportions as their benchmark index.

How passive management works

Passively managed ETFs have a predetermined set of rules that dictate what securities they hold and what proportions. These rules are based on the index they track, such as market capitalisation or industry sector. For example, an S&P 500 index ETF will hold all 500 stocks in the same proportion as the index.

Passive management also means minimal buying and selling of securities within the fund, reducing transaction costs. Index ETFs have a buy-and-hold strategy and try to compete with the market through continuous buying and selling.

Advantages of passive management in ETFs

Here are  some benefits of investing in passively managed ETFs:

Lower fees

Index ETFs, exchange-traded funds, offer a compelling advantage over actively managed funds due to their lower expense ratios. This cost-effectiveness makes them attractive for investors looking to optimise their returns. Unlike actively managed funds that rely on experienced fund managers in Hong Kong, index ETFs do not require continuous active management.

As a result, the fees associated with research, trading, and analysis are significantly lower, allowing investors to keep more of their hard-earned money. This cost-saving advantage, combined with the potential for broad market exposure and diversification, makes index ETFs a prudent and appealing investment option for those seeking long-term growth and financial success.


A passively managed ETF account offers diversification to investors by tracking an index that includes a wide range of securities types, such as stocks, bonds, and commodities. This diversification across different asset classes can effectively lower the overall risk in an investor’s portfolio, providing a more balanced and stable investment strategy.


ETFs offer remarkable transparency, providing investors with readily accessible information about their holdings. This transparency empowers investors to understand the fund’s composition and how it aligns with their goals and risk tolerance. By having a clearer picture of the underlying assets, investors in Hong Kong can make more informed trading and investment decisions and have greater confidence in their investment strategies.

Are all ETFs passively managed?

Not all ETFs are passively managed. While passive ETFs aim to track the performance of a specific index, there are also actively managed ETFs that employ strategies like stock picking or market timing to outperform the market potentially. Although these actively managed funds may come with higher expense ratios compared to their passive counterparts, they offer the allure of potentially higher returns.

It is important to note that a higher level of risk comes with the potential for higher returns. These funds’ active management strategies introduce additional uncertainty and can result in greater volatility. Moreover, actively managed ETFs may have lower liquidity than passive ETFs and may only sometimes perfectly track their benchmark index.

By considering these factors, investors can make informed decisions about whether to opt for actively managed ETFs, which offer the potential for outperformance but also come with added risks, or stick with passive ETFs that aim to mirror the performance of a specific index with lower expense ratios and greater liquidity.

Passive vs. active ETFs: Which is better?

The debate between passive and active management in ETFs has been ongoing, with proponents on both sides. Ultimately, deciding whether to invest in a passively or actively managed ETF depends on an investor’s individual goals and risk tolerance.

Passive management may be more suitable for investors seeking long-term growth and stability as it offers lower fees and diversification. Conversely, those looking for higher returns and are willing to take on more risk may opt for actively managed ETFs.

Final thoughts

ETFs have gained significant popularity among Hong Kong investors due to their convenience and cost-effectiveness as an investment option. While most ETFs are passively managed, meaning they aim to copy the performance of a specific index, there are also actively managed options available.

Understanding these approaches’ differences is crucial for Hong Kong investors looking to make informed investment decisions. Passive ETFs may appeal to those seeking broad market exposure and long-term investment strategies. In contrast, active ETFs may be attractive to investors looking for potential outperformance and the expertise of professional managers.

By offering diverse investment options, ETFs provide flexibility and accessibility to investors of all levels. Whether one chooses a passive or active approach, ETFs have become integral to many investment portfolios, offering a dynamic way to participate in the financial markets.

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