AI, Industry Disruptors, and Finding the Perfect Fit

By Lisa Chai, Senior Research Analyst, ROBO Global

Artificial intelligence, it’s something that has captured the imaginations of futurists of every age since long before it was a reality. I’m no exception. As a kid, my favorite characters were the Terminator, D.A.R.Y.L., and Short Circuit’s “Johnny 5.”

As I got older, I became obsessed with The Matrix, I, Robot, and Ex Machina. Nothing could quench my appetite for a new take on the future of AI. Perhaps it’s no surprise that I managed to turn my passion into a career—and no coincidence that I’ve found myself standing right where I am today at ROBO Global.

While my passion for AI and emerging technologies could have easily steered me toward a career in robotics, my love of numbers pushed me toward the world of investing. In my role as an institutional investment analyst, I focused on active management of stocks and bonds for years—and I loved it. But in the late 2000s, I started to see a shift I couldn’t ignore. Without a doubt, there was a growing trend of outflows from my beloved active funds—and they were flying straight into ETFs.

Alternatives weren’t in my wheelhouse (at least not yet), so I was surprised to see this undeniable gravitational pull toward ETFs, and I found myself questioning the active management I’d been doing my entire career. Were fundamentals and active management now passé? Were ETFs a better way for investors to pursue higher returns and easily invest in the things that mattered most to them personally?

I kept working, and I kept wondering.

Fast-forward a few years, and I found myself in a new position, this time on the private company side, which opened a window into the broader investment landscape. It was there that it became clear to me that our industry was in a quandary.

Everyone was struggling to grow, and amid that struggle, everyone was looking for something—anything—that could outperform and out-deliver on investor expectations. What had changed? My childhood passion, AI, was rearing its head as an industry disruptor in my own industry.