Q&A with Industry Veteran Brian O’Donnell on ETF Distribution

Q&A with Industry Veteran Brian O’Donnell on ETF DistributionIn an ETF industry that’s grown exponentially over the past decade, strong leadership is a must-have, especially when it comes to differentiating oneself from the masses of product offerings available in the marketplace. That’s exactly what financial industry veteran Brian O’Donnell brought with him when he joined Northern Trust Asset Management as Head of Business Strategy, Enablement and Administration for the Funds and Managed Accounts Group, including its FlexShares suite of ETFs.

In O’Donnell’s new role, he will be responsible for developing business strategies that cater to the firm’s ETF, mutual fund, and multi-asset class investment solutions, as well as business intelligence, to optimize its service model for both intermediary and institutional investors.

O’Donnell’s 20-plus years of experience includes a stretch at BlackRock, where he was Head of Americas Cash & Liquidity Sales and Distribution. In his role at BlackRock, O’Donnell oversaw a team responsible for the firm’s global liquidity business across all client channels. Furthermore, O’Donnell led BlackRock’s mutual fund and iShares ETF business development for the RIA channel, and orchestrated the development and implementation of iShares’ distribution strategy for the Asia Pacific market.

O’Donnell’s global experience and leadership presents a strong fit with Northern Trust Asset Management given that it has an investor base located in 29 countries across the globe and over $970 billion in assets under management.

Brian was able to speak with the ETF Trends team to discuss his new role and offer his insight on an ever-changing financial industry, especially in the ETF space.

You left the largest ETF manager in the world and now you’ve joined Northern Trust Asset Management. What prompted the move?

I’m grateful for the 16 plus years spent with BlackRock and Barclays Global Investors, particularly how much fun it was in the very early days from 2001 to 2010, with the explosive growth of iShares. There are several reasons I chose to join Northern Trust Asset Management. Extremely compelling to me are the five values that define the culture within the firm—passion for investing, high competency, intellectual curiosity, diversity of thought and humility. Of particular note, humility manifests itself in everyone being extremely respectful of not only clients, but of one another.

The second strong attraction was the firm’s priorities, which speak to where the industry is headed.  I’m referring to an expansion of our client franchise by identifying opportunities in new as well as current markets and segments—that’s exciting to me. And with so much of that opportunity being in quantitative investment strategies, Northern Trust Asset Management is positioned extremely well given our expertise in factor investing for which we bring nearly 25 years of experience to the table.

Northern Trust Asset Management and FlexShares are committed to offering predictable outcomes and compensating our clients for the risk they take in their portfolios. Our FlexShares ETFs continue to be a strategic priority of the firm and have a perfectly fitting tagline of “built by investors, for investors” since each and every fund is designed by our investment professionals to meet fundamental investor objectives.

Multi-asset and digital solutions are two other strategic priorities that also resonate very highly with me. We’ve all seen the growth of those areas in the industry and the way that Northern Trust Asset Management is positioned to deliver on them is very appealing to me.

Finally, the opportunity to be the head of business strategy for our funds, managed accounts and ETF business is a real privilege, as I’m fortunate to contribute to the continued success of a world class organization with a 129-year track record for service, expertise and integrity. It’s a pretty exciting role.

In an ETF industry that’s dominated by three industry giants, how does a firm like Northern Trust Asset Management differentiate its FlexShares ETFs?

What’s most exciting to me about FlexShares is the innovative and entrepreneurial culture that has been the inspiration for our 26 outcome-oriented ETFs. This truly differentiates us.