December 2015: A Review of Mutual Fund Screeners

For this report, we review the 14 firms in our coverage set that currently offer fund screeners. In our review, we consider three main factors: accessibility and usability, browsing options and filter criteria, and value-added features. Because mutual fund screeners play an important role in self-directed investing, it is essential that clients can locate them quickly and easily. As part of accessibility, we also reviewed whether firms offer any type of publically accessible mutual fund screener or screener preview to entice prospective clients. Next, we review the types of data points clients can use to filter through various mutual fund options. We consider how extensively users can narrow products based on the options selected. In addition to customizable screeners, we look for firms to offer a selection of predefined screens, a useful aid for novice investors. Finally, we review how screener results are displayed and any follow-up actions that clients can perform.

When comparing firm screeners, the majority of firms rank very close to one another. Nine of the 14 firms reviewed score in the B range, with only two firms dropping lower than a B. For the most part, each of these firms offers key custom screener criteria, such as fund category, performance and risk, supplemented with a handful of pre-defined screeners and data result views. The leaders for this report go a step further in the extent of their custom and predefined criteria and the value-added features offered within the results page.

Of the 14 firms that offer a screener, 71% make their screeners accessible directly from the main navigation menu. Only two do not store the tool within their research sections. While all of the firms that offer a mutual fund screener provide it on their private sites, only 57% grant public visitors access to the tool. In many cases, screeners available on the public site do not fully mirror the private site versions. After completing a screener search, 93% of firms offer multiple ways to view the screener results. Only one firm does not offer multiple result viewing options, and 57% of firms offer a comparison function within the results page to contrast specific funds.

Additional key findings include:

  • 71% of firms offer pre-defined screens to supplement custom screens
  • 86% of firms incorporate Morningstar rankings into screener criteria
  • 79% of firms offer the option to screen for socially responsible funds