Smart beta exchange-traded funds have been, if not the rage, then certainly a growing part of the investing landscape in recent years. Yet they don’t appear to be taking the financial advisor community by storm, according to Cerulli Associates.

A recent report from the financial industry research firm found that just 21% of advisors are using smart beta products, also known as strategic beta, which it says is a smaller-than-expected amount given the wide rollout of such products.

There were 1,493 strategic beta exchange-traded products globally as of year-end 2018, with total assets under management of roughly $797 billion, according to Morningstar. And organic growth in the sector last year was up nearly 11%, thanks to $87 billion in net new cash flows.

Morningstar defines smart beta/strategic beta (the latter is its preferred term) as index funds that attempt to improve upon the risk or return characteristics of traditional market-cap-weighted indexes such as the S&P 500 or Russell 2000 Index. They do so by seeking to boost returns or dampen risk by tilting toward one or more “factors”—the attributes of an asset that both explain and produce its excess returns.

There are literally hundreds of factors. Mercifully, most investable products focus on only a handful, such as quality, momentum, value, size, dividends and volatility. Nonetheless, many advisors evidently aren’t clear about the role factors can play in investment portfolios.

“It is likely that the ambiguity about factors and what they are intended to accomplish is challenging strategic beta adoption,” Daniil Shapiro, associate director at Cerulli, wrote in a report called “Complexity and Definitional Ambiguity Challenge Strategic Beta Adoption,” which is part of the March edition of the Cerulli Edge report.

The report said that strategic beta ETFs “play a polarizing role in the ETF ecosphere.” It also posited that the terms “smart beta” and “strategic beta” do “little to explain the variate products on which issuers increasingly rely for revenue generation.”

Product literature can help explain the various concepts, Shapiro said, “but it is widely left to advisors to wade through a variety of sources to develop their own understanding of factors and their intended result.”

The report notes that 68% of product providers often market strategic beta products as providing specific factor exposures, while 50% tout the products’ ability to generate alpha. Advisors, on the other hand, say they use strategic beta products to achieve certain outcomes—especially downside risk protection and the reduction of portfolio volatility.

Furthermore, 71% of advisors said a significant or moderate reason they don’t use strategic beta products is that they don’t know whether the strategies are meant to produce alpha or outperform, while another 67% cite lack of familiarity with these strategies as a reason they don’t use them.

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