There’s are two reasons I’ve been in, around, and through the ETF industry for the last 25 years. Both are reasons why I think what we’re doing with Exchange is going to be so cool. (What’s Exchange you might ask? It’s a new conference that we’re running in partnership with my longtime colleague Matt Hougan and the incredible team at Advisor Circle — you can read more here.)

Every Story is an ETF Story

The first time I heard this phrase was a few years ago at a dinner with my friend Eric Balchunas of Bloomberg. He was lamenting how mainstream non-financial media was discovering ETFs were a hot thing. “It’s almost as if they could pick any random basketball game and make it about ETFs.” At the time, I think he meant it as a complaint. And here we are in March Madness and QQQ is the official ETF of the event.

Chuckles aside, the phrase has really stuck with me and in my own research — which, to be clear, is all the over the place — from NFTs to trading-microstructure — it’s turned out to be more true than not. I’ll put it this way:

Every interesting story that impacts human lives probably has a real, viable connection to the ETF industry. Just a few examples of the kinds of things we’ll likely be exploring in February of ’22:

  • Care about the environment? ESG ETFs just had their best year ever and we’ll hear from dozens of advisory firms using ESG to meet billions of dollars in client demand.
  • Bitcoin? If the phrase “Bitcoin ETF” hasn’t crossed your path in the last three years, you’ve been in cold storage.
  • Think Gold’s a pretty spiffy way to deal with pending inflation? Everything interesting in precious metals and commodities is now happening in the ETF world.
  • Consider yourself a stock-jockey? All the best parts of active management are in an ETF wrapper right now. ETFs have put innovation on the map.
  • Fancy yourself a gamer, or maybe you just think the writing is on the wall for the future of entertainment? There’s a battle going on right now to decide the best video game ETF, with billions on the line.
  • Wanna talk to Cannabis? ETFs have changed the way the world thinks about Cannabis investing and this exploding space is laser-focused on ETF access.
  • Just starting to probe the world of long-vol options trading, gamma-scalping, and tail risk hedging? Welcome to the cutting edge of the ETF industry – it’s all in there.

I’m guessing (since I used a sledgehammer) you get the point. Whether you’re focused on thorny financial planning problems and use model portfolios for your investment allocations or you’re a third-party strategist who runs tactical portfolios, you’ll find your peers at Exchange. I can guarantee it, because we’re going to make you part of the process.

The Big Idea Tribe

Here’s the other reason I’ve stuck around in the ETF business for so long — the people. I’m not just talking about the friends and colleagues we all collect throughout a career, I’m talking about people I haven’t even met yet.

Other than a vague ‘we work in finance’ label, I think there’s one quite specific thing that the financial advisors, asset managers, traders, ops folks, accountants, attorneys, economists, and quants I’ve met on the ETF-road for the last 25 years have in common: we all have the outrageous fortune of having jobs where we work with our brains all day. We get paid to think about stuff, and figure things out. I mean, I have the title “Director of Research,” for Pete’s sake. It means I literally get paid to know things. And so do you. If you’re reading this, chances are you get paid to think.

That’s pretty cool. We’re like this big tribe of people from (for the finance industry) surprisingly diverse backgrounds. And while we may not all agree on everything, I’ve found that when any collection of folks from this little corner of the world gets together, we find really, really interesting things to talk about. We’re like a diaspora of some ancient Big Idea tribe, that only manages to collect ourselves in one place on occasion to do the big thinky stuff (and have an occasional cocktail).

That’s why we’re excited to get together in person again. Because it’s not about this weird investment structure that’s been confusing thanksgiving dinner for the last 25 — it’s about all of the incredibly smart people that structure has seemed to gather under three little letters: ETF.

So What, Big Deal.

We want to make sure we deliver on this. We’re building this from the ground up in partnership with that Diaspora. I’m not going to tell you what the agenda is going to be 11 months from now. Y’all are going to tell us what the agenda is, every day between now and when we have to print the glossy brochures and figure out who’s got the 2PM tee time. We’re going to build it together, make a little noise, and have a lot of fun.

I hope you’ll join us.