Battlefields to Balance Sheets: How Veterans Took on the ETF Industry

Battlefields to Balance Sheets: How Veterans Took on the ETF Industry

After years of service, military veterans are heading into the field of finance.

Reviewed by: Zoya Mirza
Edited by: Zoya Mirza

When Washington, DC-native Julie Cane enrolled in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program during college, she was motivated by a sense of duty and a craving for high adrenaline.  

In 1993, Cane decided to pivot into finance—after serving as a naval aviator and doing rescue missions in the Philippines for several years—opening up her own investment fund, Democracy Investment Management, almost three decades later.  

Despite changing careers, her commitment to serving her country and the institution of democracy, in some capacity, remained steadfast. For Cane, acts of service weren’t just limited to the cockpit.  

Her company, which launched in 2020, introduced its first exchange-traded product called the Democracy International Fund ETF (DMCY) shortly after. The aim was to encourage investors to put money into democracies and pull out of investments in authoritarian states. 

“We decided to form a company and a strategy, within the industry of finance, that took a stand for democracy,” said Cane, who serves as CEO of Democracy Investments. “We can’t just put all our attention on Wall Street when we think of investment strategies. Supply chains, globalization, shifts in the geopolitical space … it’s all tied together.” 

DMCY tracks the performance of the Democracy Investments International Index, which is based on The Economist’s Democracy Index. The index overweights securities in democratic countries, such as Norway, Japan and Switzerland, among others, and underweights those in authoritarian states, such as China, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.  

“You can’t really be an advocate of ESG if you’re investing in renewable companies that use forced labor or child labor,” she said.  

Bridging the Gap

Asset management firm Alpha Architect, which was established in 2010, is also led by a team mostly comprised of former military service members. The firm has over $2.5 billion in assets under management. 

“Just from being in service myself, I know qualities like honor, commitment and integrity are held to a high standard,” said Alpha Architect CEO Wesley Gray. “So, if I see an application from a veteran, even if they might not be as qualified on paper, I’m willing to take a chance.”  

Gray, an alumnus of the United States Marine Corps, founded the firm after working as a finance professor for several years, hoping to bridge the gap between academia and the finance industry. 

Currently, the firm has five ETFs under its umbrella, with a total AUM of $610.31 million. Funds include the Alpha Architect U.S. Quantitative Value ETF (QVAL) and the Alpha Architect Value Momentum Trend ETF (VMOT), among others.  

According to Gray, the high composition of veterans in the company isn’t a coincidence, as both he and other executives seek out applicants who have served in the military. 

The firm’s investment strategy itself is also based on values learned during times of military service. “As we trade in our flak jackets for laptops and neckties, the lessons learned in combat are not only relevant, but vital on the battlefield of high finance,” according to the company website

Alpha Architect also hosts an annual “March for the Fallen” event to honor the memory and families of those who died during service. This September marked the firm’s 11-year anniversary of the walk, which takes place in Pennsylvania each year. 


Contact Zoya Mirza at [email protected] 

Zoya Mirza is a markets reporter at Her work has appeared in USA Today, Voice of America, and United Press International, among others. Mirza is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Her past experiences include editorial work in book publishing and conducting political analysis for NGOs and think tanks. Mirza is a passionate bibliophile and collects vintage postcards from every bookstore she visits in a new city.