Jon Maier was known as one of the ETF market’s biggest strategists, working as senior portfolio manager for ETF business at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management. He built up that business to some $50 billion in just eight years. Now, he’s helping lead Global X Funds as chief investment officer, continuing his work with ETFs from the product side. He tells us why he made the move, and where he sees the biggest opportunities ahead.
ETF.com: You were hugely successful as an ETF portfolio manager at Merrill Lynch. Why did you leave Merrill?
Jon Maier: I started off in the business as a closed-end fund analyst and ETF strategist at UBS for approximately 11 years. I spent most of my time on closed-end funds; the ETF business was a lot smaller at the time.
I left UBS in 2007, joined Merrill Lynch in global research working with closed-end funds, and in 2009 I was asked to take over their small asset allocation ETFs strategy business.
The models at that point were rather basic. They were designed to take advantage of Merrill Lynch’s asset allocation. They were originally created in 2005, when the ETF market was rather small, so the portfolios used plain-vanilla ETFs. When I took them over in 2009, I took a wholesale review of the existing models, and I thought there were opportunities for differentiations across different risk profiles.
Certain ETFs were more suitable for more aggressive portfolios versus others that were more suitable for more conservative portfolios. And there was a lot of levers at that time in the market in 2009 to dial up and dial down volatility as needed, or dictated by the type of portfolio we’re trying to build.
The portfolios were originally housed within global research. They were eventually moved over to the wealth management side. My job switched to focusing purely on ETFs, because the market and the use of the models was a lot bigger.
Over time, as the portfolios grew and grew, I thought it was time to take a new challenge, look for a different type of opportunity, and try to take a shot on the product side. I worked at two large firms for close to 20 years, and the ETF business was continuing to grow. I wanted to take advantage of that.
ETF.com: Global X is a thematic ETF issuer with a diverse product lineup—the 19th-largest issuer by assets. Why Global X?
Maier: The ETF business is dominated by three large players. When you look at other providers, some have an interesting product suite, other providers have a strong sales team, and potential opportunities for growth.
When I looked at Global X’s product suite, I actually saw more than thematics. Thematics are working quite well right now, and I’d like to believe we dominate the thematics space, but we also have income, country exposure and factor-based ETFs, as well as a few other types of ETFs—risk management.
I see it as a small company with a bunch of different verticals, a solid sales team and a really nice culture. I felt the culture was suitable to my personality.