Custodians are giving clients expanded frequency of data and more details relative to other plans of similar size, offering them performance data on several different levels rather than one broad view.
"If you have a very robust performance measurement system and can break down assets by classes, you're in a good position to roll up (the data) and create those types of universes" that plan sponsors are looking for, Mr. Pryor said.
Russell/Mellon, for example, offers 225 investment manager universes.
A plan sponsor might "look at the investment objective of their plan, look at their asset allocation and the managers they've picked and drill down to see how they're making decisions based on similar plans that have the same types of investment mandates," said Mr. Pryor.
Sponsors are particularly eager to see universe comparisons with alternative strategies, being used in an ongoing effort to add alpha.
"Many plan sponsors have made significant allocations to alternative investments, whether hedge funds, private equity or real estate, and they've also gone out and hired specialty managers to find alpha and control risk," said Richard Galligan, senior vice president at custodian State Street Corp., Boston, and head of the firm's performance and analytics department.
"These themes are coming together to drive plan sponsors and their CIOs to take a second look at which universe comparisons are appropriate," he said. "We're giving plan sponsors and investment managers the ability to look at their profile against not just similar plans but also looking at risk-adjusted universes."
A survey of custody clients late last year by New York-based Bank of New York found that universe comparisons are "something they absolutely need," said Debra A. Baker, managing director and head of global risk services at the bank.
The survey led Ms. Baker to focus efforts on developing the bank's universe comparison product, leveraging its alliance with Wilshire Associates Inc., Santa Monica, Calif., which compiles the best known comparison, the Trust Universe Comparison Service.
In late May, the bank announced that institutional clients would be able to access TUCS data directly through the bank's online portal.