SPY is one of the most popular ETF tracking S&P500 index. If the ETF issuer State Street Global Advisors becomes bankrupt in a black swan event, what happens to investors' money? Is the money 100% protected from a credit event? Or will the money be substantially lost or totally lost?


ETFs are legally separate from their issuer, so the money invested should (the lines can get blurry in a massive crisis) be inaccessible to any bankruptcy claims. The funds assets (its shares in S&P500 companies) are held by a custodian who also keeps these assets separate from their own book.

That said, if no other institution takes over the SPY funds the custodian will probably liquidate the fund and distribute the proceeds to the ETF holders, this is likely a less than ideal situation for the holders as the S&P500 would probably not be at its highest levels if State Street is going bankrupt (not to mention the potential taxation).

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    Thanks. Upvoted. If the custodian goes bankrupt, does it mean the money will be gone? – curious May 2 '17 at 11:32
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    @curious Client assets of a custodian are also separated from their own so creditors of the custodian have no claim to the fund holdings. Worth noting that a custodian going bankrupt would be rather exceptional. – Koen vd H May 2 '17 at 13:04

Presumably you mean to ask what happens if State Street files chapter 7 bankruptcy, since not all bankruptcy proceedings end in liquidation.

SPY is a well known ticker, I can't imagine that there wouldn't be an eager bank willing to pay to pick up that ticker and immediately acquire all the assets related to it. The most likely scenario is that another bank would assume control of the ticker and assets, and the shares would continue trading as they always have.

A less likely scenario is that no other financial institution wanted to acquire SPY, and the shares would be liquidated and the proceeds would go to the owners of shares of the ETF. Since the underlying assets are in companies that have actual value, the shares shouldn't trade at much of a discount prior to liquidation.

Additionally, if there is a black swan event, there will probably be losses on the underlying assets, so it might even be helpful if the SPY fund was tied up in legal proceedings while everyone gets their heads straight in the market.


You are asking about what happens when an ETF/mutual fund company goes bankrupt. If you were asking about a bank account you would be asking about FDIC coverage.

Investment funds are different, the closest thing to FDIC protection is provided by Securities Investors Protection Corporation (SIPC)

SIPC was created under the Securities Investor Protection Act as a non-profit membership corporation. SIPC oversees the liquidation of member broker-dealers that close when the broker-dealer is bankrupt or in financial trouble, and customer assets are missing. In a liquidation under the Securities Investor Protection Act, SIPC and the court-appointed Trustee work to return customers’ securities and cash as quickly as possible. Within limits, SIPC expedites the return of missing customer property by protecting each customer up to $500,000 for securities and cash (including a $250,000 limit for cash only).

SIPC is an important part of the overall system of investor protection in the United States. While a number of federal and state securities agencies and self-regulatory organizations deal with cases of investment fraud, SIPC's focus is both different and narrow: restoring customer cash and securities left in the hands of bankrupt or otherwise financially troubled brokerage firms.

SIPC was not chartered by Congress to combat fraud. Although created under a federal law, SIPC is not an agency or establishment of the United States Government, and it has no authority to investigate or regulate its member broker-dealers. It is important to understand that SIPC is not the securities world equivalent of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which insures depositors of insured banks.

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    No expert in this field but isn't this exclusively about brokers and their client assets? An investment fund is a whole different beast. – Koen vd H May 2 '17 at 15:30

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