Vident's Nandakumar: ETF Industry is a 'Meritocracy'

The Vident president says she's found clients just want to know "Can you help me grow my business?"

LucyBrewster310x310
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Finance Reporter
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Reviewed by: etf.com Staff
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Edited by: Ron Day

Amrita NandakumarLike many industry veterans, Amrita Nandakumar saw the explosive potential of the ETF industry while it was in its infancy.

“Something just told me that they were going to be incredibly disruptive and important in asset management moving forward. I just wanted to learn everything I could about them,” she explained.

Now, Nandakumar is the President of Alpharetta, Georgia-based Vident Asset Management, where she oversees the sub-advisory business. Prior to joining Vident, she held roles at VanEck overseeing product development and the launch of the firm’s international ETFs. She had also held roles at Vanguard.

We spoke about how the ETF industry has evolved, how it will continue growing and why a diverse team is important when building products.

This interview is part of a series etf.com is doing this month to highlight top women in ETFs. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

 etf.com: What sparked your interest in finance?

Nandakumar: I was getting my MBA in the middle of the financial crisis. From an academic perspective, I'd always been fascinated by the intersection of government and business. I spent several years in DC at the Defense Department. 

I wanted to get my MBA to better understand the private sector and the opportunities there. It was quite informative for me to be getting the degree in the middle of the financial crisis. It really sparked my interest in financial services and understanding what an incredible impact they had on our economy and what role I could play there. 

I landed my first job in financial services at Vanguard, just barely a few years after they had launched their first ETF. I worked with some incredible people that are very well known in the industry now and learned from them. I figured out quickly that ETFs were still quite nascent, but something just told me that they were going to be incredibly disruptive and important in asset management moving forward. 

I just wanted to learn everything I could about them. And so, I've spent my entire financial services career working in ETFs.

How do you feel like the industry has evolved from that early stage?

The narrative you hear the most often is the huge increase in number of funds and asset growth flows versus mutual funds. But going beyond that, just look at how ETFs have truly democratized investing, how they’ve brought so many new investors to the table—not just retail but institutional too. 

I think we can all agree that some of the most incredible innovation in asset management is happening in the ETF industry. The real exciting innovation, in terms of investment strategies and access, continues to take place in ETFs. That’s one of the many reasons active ETFs have exploded the way they have.

How is being a woman an asset in your career?

I think it just goes back to the foundation of what it means to have diversity and inclusion. Having female voices at the table, having the voices of people of color at the table will provide different perspectives and different approaches to critical thinking. 

At the end of the day, we're trying to evolve to continue to bring investment ideas that have impact and value to investors. We're not designing products for one specific demographic or type of people. And so, the more diversity you have at the table when you're developing ideas, the more you can hope that your investment products and the ETF that you develop speaks to a broad audience of potential investors.

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

I would say start off at a large firm because those firms are the market leaders. One of the things they offer is a multitude of educational and development resources and the people who have a willingness to teach you.

For people in asset management, but particularly women and people of color, I would say that ETFs, more than any other area of asset management, does feel very much like a meritocracy. It’s just so rapidly growing and there's so much to be done. People don’t care what you look like or what your name is, they’re just want to know ‘Can you help me grow my business?’

How far do you think the industry has come in terms of opportunities for women and diversity as a whole?

I think companies are trying to say and do the right things. I think organizations like Women in ETF have done a lot to attract women into the ETF industry, and I'm grateful for that. I think there's more work to be done, especially in terms of attracting people of color. When I think back to how it looked when I first joined, I am pleased to see that we've made progress.

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.