Disruptors Dominate 2020 ETF.com Awards

In a year marred by a pandemic and market turmoil, innovators took center stage.

Reviewed by: Heather Bell
Edited by: Heather Bell

[Editor's Note: A more detailed article about the awards and the individual winners will appear in the May issue of ETF Report. Watch the 8th Annual ETF.com Awards.]


The ETF.com Awards are always a fun way to recognize and commemorate the best and brightest the ETF market had to offer in the prior year.

Given the global pandemic and the acceleration of several trends that characterized markets in 2020, it seems fitting that the ETF industry’s biggest disruptors played a prominent role in the year’s nominations and award winners.

From the Lifetime Achievement Award winner to the Index of the Year’s award recipient, the year’s winners represent not just the top names in the ETF space but also some of the most innovative and disruptive products, firms and personalities.

Please join ETF.com in congratulating the winners if the 2020 Annual ETF.com Awards:


Lifetime Achievement

2020’s Lifetime Achievement Award winner is somewhat of an unusual name in that his biggest role in the ETF world has been as an educator. Matt Hougan spent years literally spreading the word of ETFs to every corner of the asset management world. For a time, he did that as an executive at ETF.com. But in recent years, he has picked up the crypto torch, and as chief investment officer at Bitwise, Hougan is currently looking to be among the first to bring a bitcoin ETF to market.


  • Eric Balchunas (Bloomberg)
  • Bruce Bond (Innovator)
  • Burton Malkiel (Wealthfront)
  • Jan Van Eck (VanEck)


ETF Of The Year

The ARK Innovation ETF (ARKK) was the single most talked about ETF in 2020. The fund delivered a 150% gain in 2020 despite the massive drawdown the market faced in March. A shining light in the ETF space during a time of chaos, the actively managed fund seemed to benefit from its broad-based disruptive innovation theme, focusing on the very companies that found themselves leading the way out of a global shutdown. ARKK captured everyone’s imagination, and delivered the goods. For that, it claimed the top ETF prize.



Best New ETF

The Invesco NASDAQ Next Gen 100 ETF (QQQJ) took the prize for Best New ETF largely because it captured the “what’s next” theme in an area of the market investors can’t seem to get enough of. The fund covers the next 100 stocks that are eligible for entry into the Nasdaq-100 Index, which underlies the Invesco QQQ Trust (QQQ). QQQ was one of the best-performing ETFs of 2020, but QQQJ represents stocks with a lot more runway ahead of them relative to the large and megacap securities that populate QQQ’s portfolio.



Best New U.S. Equity ETF

The winner of the Best New ETF award also claimed the prize for Best New Equity ETF for very similar reasons. The Invesco NASDAQ Next Gen 100 ETF (QQQJ) invests in the names that are next in line to enter one of the world’s most popular and widely traded ETFs, offering even more growth potential than its sibling fund.  



Best New International/Global Equity ETF

Dimensional Fund Advisors is one of the most renowned mutual fund providers, so it’s no surprise its foray into ETFs was met with a great deal of enthusiasm. The Dimensional International Core Equity Market ETF (DFAI), which now has nearly $300 million in assets, is one of three ETFs the firm launched during the year, and offers an actively managed strategy that tilts toward specific factors for an expense ratio of just 0.18%.



Best New U.S. Fixed Income ETF

The Vanguard ESG U.S. Corporate Bond ETF (VCEB), Vanguard’s only launch during the year, tapped into the increased demand for ESG strategies during 2020, offering a new low-cost take on ESG bond exposure to the tune of just 0.12%. It’s also backed by the power of Vanguard’s brand, a behemoth of low-cost investing that is well-known for being very thoughtful about innovation and new product launches.  



Best New International/Global Fixed Income ETF

Global X entered a fairly well-trod area when it launched an emerging markets bond ETF in 2020, but it did so by advancing market access with the actively managed Global X Emerging Markets Bond ETF (EMBD) . EMBD is unique given the wide latitude it has to invest in fixed- and floating-rate bonds of any credit quality and maturity from both corporate and government-related issuers. Its managers implement both top-down and bottom-up analysis to build EMBD’s portfolio.



Best New ESG ETF

TrueShares is a new brand name in the ETF space, and the TrueShares ESG Active Opportunities ETF (ECOZ) is the first actively managed ESG ETF to claim a prize in the ETF.com Awards. A number of active ESG ETFs launched in 2020, but they generally relied on nontransparent models. However, ECOZ is fully transparent and reveals its holdings daily, meaning investors are unlikely to be surprised by any of its investments.



Best New Smart Beta or Factor ETF

A strangely prescient launch, the iShares U.S. Small Cap Value Factor ETF (SVAL) rolled out in a year in which small and value factors were decidedly out of favor, but the tide quickly turned with the new year. Now SVAL is surfing the two factors that have been breakout stars in 2021. That, paired with the iShares name, is enough to suggest the fund’s successful future.



Best New Active ETF

Nontransparent actively managed ETFs were one of the most exciting innovations in the ETF space during 2020, and the American Century Focused Dynamic Growth ETF (FDG) was among the first batch of these products to hit the market. It’s since demonstrated strong performance, and has found a following, gathering nearly $200 million in assets. FDG relies on the Precidian model for nontransparent actively managed ETFs, and its success may pave the way for other similar strategies in an ETF wrapper.



Best Thematic ETF

Sometimes theme investing has a lot to do with timing. In the year of a global pandemic, it isn’t surprising an ETF devoted to remote health care and efficient management of health-related data took the prize for best thematic ETF. The Global X Telemedicine & Digital Health ETF (EDOC) captures a slice of the market that had everyone’s attention in 2020, but more broadly, it delivers on a theme—the digitizing of health care—that’s only likely to grow from here.



Best New ETF Ticker of the Year

The Best New Ticker is usually the most fun award every year. For 2020,  it was claimed by the SoFi Weekly Income ETF (TGIF), a fund that pays out dividends to its investors every Friday. Not only does the ticker evoke a popular saying from a far less fraught time, it’s also accurate given the nature of the fund’s distributions.



 ETF Issuer Of The Year

2020 definitely belonged to ARK Invest. Given how the firm dominated headlines while its funds tore up the leaderboards last year, ARK’s win should come as no surprise. ARK’s story is overnight success some six years in the making. Entering the market in 2014, ARK has focused on disruptive innovation and active management from day one. Today the firm sits at the No. 10 spot in the issuer rankings in terms of assets under management. It currently has more than $50 billion in AUM, a testament to the faith investors place in the investment thesis of founder Cathie Wood.


  • Direxion
  • Global X
  • Innovator ETFs
  • The Vanguard Group


Best New ETF Issuer

Dimensional Fund Advisors was a long-awaited entrant to the ETF space given its “indexlike” history of investing in broad swaths of the market. Dimensional made a name in the mutual fund world with its tilting exposures based on size, value and profitability. The firm is well-known and well-loved for its strong foothold in that space, which makes its arrival in the ETF market especially meaningful to investors.


  • 6 Meridian
  • Bank of New York Mellon
  • TrueShares


Index Provider of the Year

MSCI is no stranger to this award, having taken the prize in multiple previous years. Not only is it one of the most well-established index providers in the ETF space, its reach extends far beyond just one type of investment wrapper. MSCI indexes, as well as its analytics in both factor and ESG strategies, are widely used at a global level by institutions, asset managers and investors alike.


  • BlackRock
  • S&P Dow Jones
  • Solactive


Index of the Year

The NASDAQ Next Generation 100 Index tracks the performance of the 100 stocks that are next in line in eligibility for inclusion in the Nasdaq-100. That means its components are mid- and large cap securities representing nonfinancial companies. These are the stocks in the Nasdaq-100’s waiting room, and they represent greater growth potential than the megacaps that dominate that index’s performance.


  • Indxx SPAC & NextGen IPO Index
  • SectorSurfer Momentum Index
  • Solactive Remote Work Index
  • Wilshire Gold Index

Heather Bell is a former managing editor of etf.com. She has also held editorial positions at Dow Jones Indexes and Lehman Brothers. Bell is a graduate of Dartmouth college and resides in the Denver area with her two dogs.