Although some fund managers prefer to pay for their trade execution and research requirements separately in hard, rather than in soft dollars, many others rely on client commission agreements, also sometimes called commission-sharing arrangements, or CSAs, as evidenced by a recent survey of 214 mutual funds, hedge funds and pension plans.

Integrity Research, a New York-based research shop that evaluates providers of CSA services, says fund managers use CSAs to pay for 30% of research. "A side benefit of CSAs is increased transparency for what is spent for execution versus research services," said Ana Blanco, analyst and co-author of the report. "As CSA adoption grows, investors are placing greater emphasis on proactively managing their spending on research."

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