Women In ETFs – A Potential Powerhouse

The new group will have to avoid rhetoric and become an active presence in the industry

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Editor, etf.com Europe
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Reviewed by: Rachael Revesz
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Edited by: Rachael Revesz

As far as debates at the ETF.com conference were concerned, I was expecting the usual issues – regulation, smart beta and a healthy splash of macroeconomics. What I found rather more unusual was the Women in ETFs breakfast, where feminism and finance could stir up quite a crowd at 7.30 in the morning.

Munching on some low-fat granola and yoghurt at the breakfast, surrounded by over 100 women in finance, I wondered why it has taken the ETF industry so many years to discover its girl power.

The panel running this group is one large, all-female powerhouse. The running list includes: Debbie Fuhr, managing partner and co-founder of research house ETFGI and a familiar voice on anything ETF-related; Sue Thompson, managing director and head of the Registered Investment Advisor group at BlackRock; Joanne Hill, longstanding Goldman Sachs employee and now head of investment strategy at Proshares; and Michelle Mikos, ETF business development director at Invesco PowerShares. Last but not least is senior portfolio manager Linda Zhang from Windhaven Investment Management, who encouraged the audience not to “pretend to be men” and dished out advice on how to get noticed.

Events and webinars have been planned, and men are welcome. But admittedly these women will have to work hard to avoid becoming a forum for rhetoric and instead present themselves as an active, tangible presence in the industry.

“It’s about education, organising events, encouraging new women to come into the industry – as there are very few women to connect with, especially on the trading side,” said Fuhr.

Fuhr has travelled to 56 countries in recent years and is always on the move. For example, she said she needed guidance when she went to Dubai where to buy an abaya, and to know what the customary greetings are.

“Sometimes you need to look to a woman to connect with and look for advice,” she said. She added it could depend on the topic – from HR and maternity leave to advice on career direction or being introduced to a contact.

The main goal is networking, networking, networking. Tips are to build up your so-called “loose connections” – the place where your next career opportunity is most likely to come from – and engage with social media.

Another reason to network amongst females is to help each other understand the “complexity” of ETFs.

It would be very difficult to work in ETFs and not know about equities, fixed income, commodities, smart beta, benchmarks, trading, exchanges, different platforms and how people do asset allocation, according to Fuhr.

“It’s clearly becoming an area where you need to know a lot more about different aspects of finance,” she said. “And there’s a lot of product.”

But what about the men; where do they fit in? I asked Rick Ferri, a US-based pioneer in low-cost investments.

“Getting more women in the industry should be the goal,” he said. “I’ve been around for 25 years and it’s always been a men’s industry. It’s about getting more women interested at all levels.”

Fuhr, Thompson, Zhang, Mikos and Hill’s brainchild was born at our ETF.com conference in 2013, and we take our hats off to these women who want to change things in the ETF industry for the better.

Who does Deborah Fuhr admire in the industry, besides the Women In ETFs panel?

Kathleen Moriarty – a powerful New York-based lawyer. She is an expert in creating and advising on ETFs from various big players such as Vanguard, iShares, ProShares and Wisdom Tree. Not only that, but she also wrote the legal documents for the SPDR Gold Trust. Now she is working with the Winkelvoss twins, made famous by their early involvement in Facebook, to create a new ETF tracking the performance of virtual currency Bitcoin.

“The ETF industry is an ecosystem, and Kathleen is someone I have reached out to many times as clearly tax and regulation are a big part of this industry,” said Fuhr.

Patricia Dunne – the former chief executive of Barclays Global Investors, who was a key cog in the wheel for the development of iShares. It was an unlikely success story after first dropping out of university and becoming a secretary at Wells Fargo. She sadly passed away in 2011.

“Many of the women who inspired me are my colleagues,” said Fuhr.

Anita Rausch – Rauch was an emerging markets trader at Morgan Stanley and is now director of capital markets at WisdomTree.

“First, I admired her for understanding all the nuances of emerging markets which are very complicated, and second for having the patience as a trader, with phone ringing all the time, to take the time to be helpful,” said Fuhr.

Rachael Revesz joined etf.com in August 2013 as staff writer. Previously an investment reporter at Citywire, she has a background in writing content for retail financial advisors and has covered a wide range of subjects in finance. Revesz studied journalism at PMA Media, which has since merged with the Press Association. She also holds a B.A. in modern languages from Durham University, as well as CF1 and CF2 financial planning certificates from the CII.