Deborah Fuhr on the ETF Industry's Growth

Fuhr founded ETFGI in 2012.

LucyBrewster310x310
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Finance Reporter
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Reviewed by: etf.com Staff
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Edited by: James Rubin

Deborah Fuhr is a leading researcher in the ETF industry and the firm she founded, ETFGI, has grown to be the preeminent global database used by industry analysts and executives.

Yet Fuhr explained that starting her research business was a huge leap. “It was a little risky because for the past 11 years I had basically been giving my research away for free at the firms I had been working for,” she explained.

Fuhr is also a founder of Women in ETFs, an organization that supports networking and career events for those looking to break into and advance in the ETF space. She has also held roles at BlackRock Inc., Morgan Stanley, and Greenwich Associates.

This Q&A is part of an ongoing series highlighting women to watch in ETFs. This interview has been condensed for length and clarity.

Etf.com: What drew you into a career in ETF research?

Fuhr: My earliest job was working for a consulting firm called Greenwich Associates, and the founder of that firm, Charlie Ellis, is well known. He had done early research comparing the performance of S&P 500 active funds to the S&P 500 index. He was a firm believer of the thesis he laid out in his book Winning the Losers Game, which basically said that people are better off in index funds then active strategies. That made a lot of sense to me, and I really enjoyed working with him. It was an amazing experience.

I also found working in finance that if you were outside the U.S., people were more inclined to want to develop and maintain a relationship. So, I got my MBA and then pursued moving overseas to London. Shortly after that, Morgan Stanley had been a client and approached me about working for them. The rest is history.

How did you decide to start your own research firm, ETFGI?

I saw an opportunity because there wasn't a lot happening around the global context [in terms of data]. It’s easy to get information for the U.S market, it's harder to get consistent information globally. Our firm also bases our data all into the dollar unit, so users can compare across markets.

It was a little risky because for the past 11 years I had basically been giving my research away for free at the firms I had been working for. Now, we changed it to a model where we were going to ask people to pay.

The research reports are what differentiates us from most other firms that are out there because we’re consistently doing the reports monthly and break data down by regions, categories, and products.

How have you seen the ETF industry evolve from when you first started tracking some of these data points?

We’ve seen evolution in the product offering, the client base, and how the funds are used. 

There was a lot of pushback to ETFs at the beginning. When I started at Morgan Stanley, there was $8 billion in 21 ETFs. I was sitting on the trading floor in institutional equities, and I would call up private banks and other organizations and say to them ‘Have you heard of ETFs?’ And many people would say ‘Are you going to pay us commission?’ They wanted me to pay them to use ETFs, so in the beginning it was quite difficult because that was the model in a lot of the world. It still is the model in Asia and Latin America and the Middle East.

Also, another big theme that has changed is just the expansion of the firms getting involved in the industry and in active ETFs specifically. Initially, it was just all ETFs for index tracking. Then, when Bear Sterns Co. launched the first active ETF in the U.S., many investors wondered why we needed active ETFs.

The awareness of the products continued to evolve. It went from traders using ETFs to financial advisors, and then to fund selectors and portfolio managers as well as retail investors.

What advice would you give people looking to climb the ranks in the industry?

Get involved with Women in ETFs. We do university outreach, we do mentorship programs, we hold educational events, professional development, and we do networking events.

Be inquisitive, be motivated, raise your hand to do things. Opportunities come to people who are eager to do work, are motivated, and are friendly.

Contact Lucy Brewster at [email protected].

Lucy Brewster is a finance reporter at etf.com covering asset managers, emerging technologies, and regulation. She hosts etf.com webinars and appears on Exchange Traded Fridays, etf.com’s flagship podcast. She previously was a finance fellow at Fortune Magazine where she covered markets, investment strategy, and venture capital. She has also been a freelancer writer at the publication Mergers & Acquisitions and a research fellow at the Historic Hudson Valley. 

She graduated from Vassar College in 2022 with a degree in History and was an editor of The Miscellany News, the college's award winning student run newspaper. 

Lucy lives in Brooklyn, NY, and in her free time she loves to run and find new recipes to cook.