What do you get when you put more than 1,500 mutual and ETF fund managers, advisors, consultants, academics and other industry executives into the Westin Diplomat in Hollywood, Fla., over four days?
You get lots of tweeting, it turns out. You get talks about "elevated risk of a 10% correction this year," as noted by Liz Ann Sonders, chief investment strategist at Charles Schwab & Co. You get fun cocktail hours. And you get insight into what's keeping mutual fund and ETF managers up at night.
BlackRock's Daniel Gamba, who attended ETF.com's Inside ETFs conference, talks about the biggest takeaways from the conference, the impact of iShares on BlackRock's business, and what his peers are worried about.
Q. What are the top ETF trends you learned from attending the world's largest ETF conference last week?
In general, the industry expects continued product innovation and more types of clients using ETFs. ETF product innovation will be centered on client led applications. Successful new products will be those in which ETF providers listened to their clients' needs and involved them more in the product development process. iShares, for example, partnered with institutional and advisor clients in 2013 to develop iShares MSCI Factor ETFs and Enhanced ETFs based on their desire for exposure to certain factors such as value, size, quality and momentum.
Non-market cap weighted ETFs, such as factor ETFs or minimum volatility ETFs, and fixed income, are in the spotlight. Investors have also traditionally looked to bonds to add diversification, stability and income to their portfolios. But as large areas of the bond market offer little or no yield, and with a period of rising interest rates likely ahead, investors are rethinking their fixed income portfolio.
Q. What are the top concerns you're hearing from industry peers? What's keeping them up at night?
The need for education increases as more investors use ETFs. BlackRock and other ETF providers spend more time and resources educating investors on how to use ETFs in their portfolios and how to trade them efficiently. We at BlackRock consider it one of our highest priorities. The industry wants to ensure investors have a positive experience with the products.
Q. How has iShares influenced BlackRock's business?
BlackRock's acquisition of Barclays Global Investors that included the iShares business enabled BlackRock to offer its clients a full spectrum of investment solutions from passive to active. The firm recognized early on that investors will continue to use both passive and active strategies in their portfolios. The acquisition enabled BlackRock to be a better holistic solutions provider to its clients.
Q. Which types of investors are new to ETFs, exploring them for the first time, and why?
We're noticing that banks, insurance companies and active asset managers are the investors just starting to explore ETFs. Banks and insurers are diversifying their fixed income portfolios by moving into higher yielding sectors such as investment grade corporates. They are increasingly using fixed income ETFs for their diversification and liquidity. There are a few asset managers who are beginning to use ETFs and many more who have yet to use ETFs.
Q. ETF investment strategists are increasingly being viewed as boutique asset managers since their objectives are similar to traditional asset managers. Why?
Yes, and most ETF investment strategists see themselves as boutique asset managers because like a large asset manager the ETF strategist is in many ways fulfilling a fiduciary role, managing strategies for clients. We see this segment of the industry growing. We expect more growth as new investors such as institutional investors and non-US clients use ETF Investment Strategists.
Q. With regard to mutual funds, what concerns do mutual fund managers have regarding ETF growth and how are they reacting?
The growth of ETFs is causing mutual fund managers to ask questions about if and how they should be using ETFs in their own funds. In some cases, fund managers are considering if they should offer ETFs and, if so, they are generally filing for actively managed ETFs rather than passive ETFs.
Q. Why are you launching new currency hedged ETFs?
We already provide large, highly liquid iShares that provide access to international developed markets, Germany and Japan. Based on client feedback, we decided to develop currency hedged iShares ETFs for these markets. They are of interest to investors who have positive views on Japanese, German or EFA equities, but negative views on local currencies.
Q. What are the biggest distribution challenges for ETF providers?
During the ETF.com conference a recurring theme was distribution. It's key to success for ETF providers and ETF strategists. The challenge is to find the right partners.
Q. What do you envision as your greatest competition?
ETFs are competing most often with single securities. Most money into ETFs comes from money that would normally go into single securities which is a vast universe. Our biggest challenge is often investor inertia. We find that once an investor, small or large, invests in an ETF for the first time, they find it to be a simple process and are open to using them more.