ETF Pioneer Joanne Hill: Still Restless, Still Breaking Ground

Cboe Vest advisor wins Lifetime Achievement Award for her many industry contributions.

Reviewed by: Lisa Barr
Edited by: Ron Day

From her early days as an analyst during the launch of SPDRs, iShares and Vipers, to co-founding Women in ETFs, to her current role at Cboe Vest, Joanne M. Hill, Ph.D., has left her imprint on what has grown into the nearly $7 trillion exchange-traded fund industry. 

For her accomplishments, she is the winner of the 2023 Lifetime Achievement Award. 

Currently the chief advisor for research and strategy at Cboe Vest and a board governor for the CFA Institute, Hill has held important leadership roles in research and strategy in index/ETF products for 30-plus years, initially on the sell-side at Goldman Sachs—in the “Wild West 1980s, when trading floors still had strippers perform to celebrate birthdays,” as she puts it—and then at ProShares before joining Cboe Vest.  

A lead analyst in the ETF space from the launch of State Street’s SPDRs, BlackRock’s iShares and Vanguard’s Vipers, she wrote the first Product Guide to ETFs around the launch of iShares and led a team that assisted institutions—such as hedge funds, pension funds, asset managers, and RIAs—in adopting ETFs in the 2000s.  

Hill has also penned articles on ETF features and strategies, including educational materials on leveraged, inverse and VIX futures ETFs. In 2015, together with Bitwise Investment CIO Matt Hougan and Dave Nadig, CIO and director of research at ETF Trends, she co-authored the CFA Research Foundation publication “A Comprehensive Guide to Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs)” and contributed to the CFA’s study materials on ETFs. 

Never Sitting Still 

A Charleston, South Carolina, resident since 2009, Hill grew up in Eastern Pennsylvania before attending American University in Washington, D.C., to study international relations.  

It was during her undergrad years when she met her future husband, now-retired economist Joseph Liro.  

The couple will be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this year, and also boast of sharing a daughter and one grandchild—with another on the way—who live nearby. In her free time, if she’s not out enjoying a long walk or jogging with her pooch, you’ll likely find Hill hitting the links, smashing it at pickleball or enjoying a spirited game of canasta.  

The one thing you’ll never find her doing is sitting still. 

While pursuing her doctorate degree in finance—with women, at that time, accounting for only 3% of such degrees—it was Hill’s Ph.D. advisor who, after witnessing the implications of ERISA (a federal law that sets minimum standards for most voluntarily established retirement and health plans in private industry to provide protection for individuals in these plans) in the late 1970s, convinced her to study asset management. Upon graduation, Hill accepted a position with the Federal Reserve, thus launching her career in the financial industry. 

In addition to her professional work, Hill is an adjunct professor at the College of Charleston School of Business, and was previously an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts.  

“I love exploring new areas of finance and investing, and adapting academic research to practical applications,” she revealed. “I love working with young analysts and teaching. I also learned so much from smart institutional clients—their questions helped me develop my research agenda and prepare for others eventually asking the same questions.”  

‘Sophisticated Strategies’ 

When asked where she sees the future of the financial industry heading, Hill recalled how institutional investors “dominated innovation and pursued the most sophisticated strategies” during her first two decades in the industry. 

“Now private wealth management is where the action is—so many interesting problems because they are looking at total portfolio management, not just asset class buckets,” Hill remarked. 

Other changes are afoot, she noted, as the industry moves away from “obsessions with benchmarks that limit strategies that have different risk profiles than those benchmarks.” 

“Option-based strategies alter risk or income features and do not easily fit into traditional asset allocate buckets, but are very relevant in a total portfolio context,” Hill explained. “Also, I see the industry growing in the alternatives space, but this time with lower-fee, more-transparent products and room for ETFs.”  

Her impact on the industry as one of the founders and former co-president of Women in ETFs—an industry group that supports women working in the field of ETFs—can’t be overstated. Unmatched in the industry in terms of knowledge and experience, Hill has been instrumental in the growth and expansion of the ETF industry. is honored to present this year’s Lifetime Achievement award to a truly deserving recipient. 

Nils Kuehn has been a writer for over 35 years. After graduating from the University of Michigan, he moved to the West Coast during the bubble of the late 1990s to further hone his craft, working in industries ranging from consulting to marketing to technology to finance to publishing. Now residing in Florida, Kuehn is a regular contributor to