The ETF landscape now spans across over 1,600 funds and nearly every imaginable investment asset class. The industry’s rapid growth, and continued evolution, was clearly evidenced at this year’s Inside ETFs Conference.
The four-day ETF conference hosted by ETF.com in sunny Hollywood, Florida was packed with insightful panel sessions, heated debates, discussions about actionable ideas, as well as a star-studded cast of guest speakers. Below, we’ve put together our list of the five most important lessons we learned at the conference.
5. Smart Beta is (Still) Hot
Smart beta products have been a hot topic for the past two years, but now they are really being pushed into the spotlight. With several panel sessions dedicated to educating investors about the uses and nuances of smart beta products, it’s fair to say this was one of the hottest buzzwords during the ETF conference. So what’s new? Well, from a product development standpoint, not a whole lot; that is to say, smart beta products, or any ETF that tilts exposure based on a certain investment factor, have been around for a while, but they just haven’t been given that label.
However, from an investor’s perspective, smart beta products are finally getting the spotlight they deserve. More specifically, issuers and advisors alike are taking the time to make sure that prospective buyers of these products are aware of how they are constructed and how they can be expected to behave in different environment. Smart beta ETFs are also now permeating the foreign equities asset class, further showcasing that demand is very much growing for this breed of funds.
4. Tremendous Growth Overseas
When we think about the long-term potential of the global economy and the global ETF industry, there is one theme that is common across both: there are tremendous opportunities for growth in overseas markets. When we look at the ETF industry around the world, it’s not terribly surprising to see that the U.S. has embraced this type of investment vehicle more so than any other country. One of the reasons behind this is owed to the uniformity in regulations surrounding the industry; for example, the European exchange-traded product market is very fragmented because each country has its own rules and regulations regarding listings, transparency, and tax law, just to name a few.
ETFs are listed in 51 different countries, and when we consider the fact that the U.S. market accounts for the lion’s share of global assets under management it’s easy to see why there’s still a tremendous opportunity for growth that stems from overseas markets.
3. Concerns Over Current Income
“The need for current income” was another buzz-phrase that permeated countless discussions and panel sessions at the Inside ETFs conference this year. So what’s the concern? Advisors and self-directed investors alike have been struggling for the past few years to generate a meaningful stream of current income amid an ultra low-rate environment at home. Fast forward to today and we see that the low-rate environment now spans across the ocean, which is why investors will continue to face a challenge when it comes to generating current income from their portfolios.
In light of this, issuers are rolling out income-focused products that are geared towards those who rely on their investments to generate a meaningful portion of their income; more specifically, retired investors will face a real challenge in securing dividends as the Fed holds its finger on the rate-hike trigger while the other major central banks are still very much stuck in monetary easing mode.
2. Retail Investors Win
The democratization of the investment landscape has been a key tenant for the ETF industry since its infancy more than two decades ago. This conference truly illuminated the fact that ETFs are built for investors and because issuers want to capture their attention, each generation of products has only become better; whether you think about the granularity, relevancy, or cost efficiency of ETFs, the one thing that’s absolutely certain is that the retail investor wins. That is to say, issuers have continued to improve their suite of funds, in terms of variety, while simultaneously working hard to drive down investment costs.
There’s few things in the finance industry we can forecast with great certainty, and one of these is the fact that retail investors will continue to benefit from the ongoing growth of the ETF industry in the years to come.
1. Education Remains a Hurdle
Economic forecasts aside, what’s absolutely certain is that education is still one of the biggest hurdles that’s keeping a lid on the industry’s growth. We’re continuing to see more and more advisors take the time to educate themselves, and then their clients, on the unparalleled advantages that exchange-traded products have to offer. The same holds true for retail investors, which are becoming more and more comfortable with utilizing ETF strategies. The reason behind the slow-and-steady adoption rate of these investment vehicles is the education gap that still exists.
Simply put, there is a great need for more education in the ETF space; this includes individuals taking more time to research and truly understand a product before making an allocation, as well as advisors being more willing to embrace exchange-traded vehicles as part of their overall strategy. We’re big proponents of investor education so be sure to read through some of our most popular ETF Lessons and Educational Guides.
The Bottom Line
Talking with advisors, issuers, portfolio managers, and all sorts of other industry experts all under one roof was a tremendously valuable experience. Inside ETFs rightfully boasts the reputation as being the best & biggest ETF-focused conference and we’re already looking forward to attending 2016’s event.
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