Inside Exchange — Matt Hougan | ETF Trends

Every week, Evan Harp sits down with one of the founders of Exchange to learn more about them, their perspective on life, and what they hope Exchange can bring to the industry.

This week, he sits down with Matt Hougan, one of the world’s leading experts on crypto, ETFs, and financial technology. Hougan is the chief investment officer for Bitwise Asset Management, the world’s largest provider of cryptocurrency index funds, with more than $1 billion in assets under management.

Evan Harp: What is something surprising about you that people wouldn’t know about right away?

Matt Hougan: I was a minor league baseball mascot. I was a nine-foot seal called Slugger, the sea dog for the double A affiliate in Portland, Maine. I wasn’t the primary in-game mascot. I don’t want to oversell myself. The guy who does flips and cartwheels on the field — that’s reserved for a gymnast. But I was the secondary mascot, playing in pseudo celebrity basketball games, opening car dealerships, and dancing the YMCA parades. You haven’t lived until you’ve tried to play basketball in the nine-foot seal suit with giant flippers for hands. So that was one of my one of my early jobs, and it was a lot of fun.

Harp: What inspires you creatively, spiritually, or emotionally?

Hougan: One thing that’s really true about me is I am one of the more fundamentally optimistic people that I know. One thing that inspires me is a deep faith in the ability for people to do things that make the world better and in the ability to create things that are fun, exciting, and meaningful. So that open frontier of possibility, hope, and potential is really core to what makes me me and inspires me every day in pretty much everything I do.

Harp: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Hougan: Ah, assuming physical limitations that prevent me from being like a professional soccer player at 45, outside of finance, I have a long-term dream of actually creating a museum. A museum about current affairs. I think a lot of modern news flow and media is relatively superficial, and I see that there are big issues in society that people want to engage with at a deep level. You can see that in the sales of books, you can see that in long-form podcasts, you can see that in people’s appetite to always know more and consider things from a 360 degree perspective. So post-ETF, post-crypto, post-finance world, I do have this dream to create a museum or environment that allows people to engage with those current affairs issues at a deeper, more physical, more 360 degree basis. The museum of the moment.

I had this realization, as an example of what it would be like, there’s a time when North Korea was in the headlines. I realized that most Americans can’t possibly model what it’s like to be in North Korea, it’s not a place we could go. What if you could go to a physical environment that recreated what it was like, what it was actually like, to be there? That had in-depth lectures around the challenges and opportunities there and some historical context. It would just be such a more holistic view of that particular thing, and you can apply that same concept to most of the major issues in society, even abstract things, like inflation or guns in America, or many things. I feel like that combination of learning and physical environments is really unique, and it’s really not something that exists.

Harp: Why did you want to launch Exchange?

Hougan: I want to launch Exchange because ETFs are really important. That’s one thing that often gets missed in this ETF discussion, is ETFs impact people’s lives. A lot of people ask me why am I interested in finance. It turns out that money is important. Money is what enables people to deliver on their hopes and dreams, lets people send kids to college, lets people buy homes. A lot of what we do in the finance industry is operate this 30,000-foot level talking about electric cars, and crypto, and smart beta, it’s very obscure from the real fundamental impact that finance and investing has on real people. One thing that ETFs have done is take a huge amount of money out of this financial maw and put it back into the pockets of people. I think conferences — or at least, one iconic conference — that continues to build the excitement, energy, and hope around this idea of how ETFs can make portfolios better and help financial advisors build better portfolios for their clients is important. The ability to create Exchange with a bunch of people that I really like, the ability to create something fun and exciting in a market, that is still really important. It’s important that it grows, and that it grows in the right way. That was just too great to pass up. It’s been fun! And I’m excited for year one, and then I’ll be even more excited for year two, three, four, five, and six.

Harp: What’s the thing that you’re personally looking forward to the most about Exchange: An ETF Experience?

Hougan: Just getting the people together again. One thing that separates ETFs from many other corners of finance is that it’s a non-zero sum community. There’s this idea that all the different parts of the ecosystem come together and build something great that benefits everyone. We haven’t been able to do that for the past few years because of COVID. We haven’t been able to connect in person. So I’m really excited to be out there in the warm Florida weather on the lawn by the beach, having cocktails and snacks with the great people in this industry. It’s just going to be really fun to be back together again. It’s been too long.

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