Exchange: An ETF experiment took place earlier in April. Evan Harp had the opportunity to sit down with Todd Rosenbluth, Head of Research at ETF Trends and ETF Database, to discuss the conference.
Evan Harp: What is a memory that stands out to you about Exchange?
Todd Rosenbluth: My memory is what happened outside of Exchange. One of the nights we were at Exchange, we had a gathering of the #ETFinTwit group which I’m not officially a part of. What I remember is being able to meet all the people that I have only known in the past couple of years through social media, but never directly had a conversation with or had the opportunity to speak beyond 280 characters.
It was just a reminder of the breadth of relationships within this ETF industry that go beyond asset managers and people I’ve known for years in the industry. Most of the meetings I’ve had at Exchange were with people I’ve known for years, but haven’t seen in two years. It was a chance to relax and have a drink with people I only know by their social media personalities. It was great to be able to connect that way with people like Nicole Casperson, or Jess Bost, or Phil Huber. I could name others, but I won’t. [Laughs] I will just add a few names.
It marked me. What we were able to collectively bring together at this conference are people and connect them face to face.
Evan Harp: What surprised you about the experience?
Todd Rosenbluth: I’m just amazed at how well it turned out! I attended ETF conferences for over a decade when I was with a previous employer, and they were usually hosted by other companies. I joined ETF Trends and ETF Database three weeks before Exchange and found myself behind the scenes. To use another analogy, I had eaten in a restaurant for years, but now suddenly I walked into the kitchen and could see how the meal was going. I could see all the effort put into making the conference a success, and what everyone who spoke to me said was a success. I had a front row seat to see how the team kept sessions running, making sure that every day everything attendees wanted was available, and that registration was running and working.
I was also surprised once inside the kitchen that it worked as the attendees were probably expecting it to work. I was just impressed with what was achieved. To use another analogy, I showed up with 30 seconds before game time and just got to see how amazing the people who helped organize this conference were.
Evan Harp: What did you learn at Exchange?
Todd Rosenbluth: It’s been two years since we’ve had a conference like this. A number of asset managers have entered the market with new products, particularly with actively managed products. I was both impressed by their presence there, but also by the number of participants in the sessions intended to inform the advisors about these products.
At the risk of making a tutorial, 96% of ETF assets are index or passively managed products. Active is a very small slice of the pie, and it’s easy to think that these new companies have come to market and no one cares about their products. The halls were quite full. I was attending some of these sessions, I was on stage interviewing some of these portfolio managers, so I learned that the demand is real. It was pretty cool to see in action. It’s not about asking people in a survey, “would they buy an actively managed ETF?” They’ve spent their time sitting in a room hearing from active managers because they want to consider buying them. It is less an investigation, less theoretical, and more reality.
Evan Harp: Now that Exchange is complete, what are some of the key themes, trends or stories that you think will impact the ETF industry for the remainder of 2022?
Todd Rosenbluth: The beginning of the year was very difficult for bond ETFs. Core bond funds are down and people expect them to provide stability. I thought some of the interesting sessions focused on what you do with your traditional 60/40 portfolio when the 60s and 40s are down in core US stocks and core fixed income.
I think there will be more talk about how you get income in different ways – high dividend stocks, or senior loans, or alternatives? At the conference, this was a hot topic as advisors try to figure out how to position their portfolios in a rising rate environment while continuing to be rewarding for their clients. I think that will set the stage for what lies ahead in the second half.
Evan Harp: What do you expect from Exchange 2023?
Todd Rosenbluth: Well, I guess it’s coming soon! In ten months. I look forward to what will be more normal.
Because it had been two years and because I had just joined ETF Trends and Database, which was co-hosting the conference, I didn’t give myself as much time to have conversations with advisors and people in the industry. Most of these conversations were congratulations on the new job. So I’m looking forward to what is a “normal” conference attendance. Hopefully COVID remains as mild as it was heading into the conference and I hope everyone is safe and healthy – of course we still have to say this, but I imagine next year will be more normal. This will not happen in fast forward. I feel like a lot of the conversations we all had were catching up and less the next level of that conversation. I can’t wait to read this next chapter.
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