ETF Movers & Shakers: Martin Small

New head of iShares' U.S. business is determined to keep his mind open, his opinions strong and his convictions light.

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Reviewed by: Cinthia Murphy
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Edited by: Cinthia Murphy

[This is part of an 11-part series we will be publishing each weekday until it is complete. The ETF Movers & Shakers feature appears in the March edition of ETF Report: Previously published: Luciano Siracusano; Tom Rampulla; Adam Patti; Mick McLaughlin; Mark Makepeace; Jeffrey Gundlach; Michael Crinieri; Reggie Browne; Nadig & Balchunas]

Movers and ShakersMartin Small

If there's one thing that defines Martin Small's approach to his job as the head of the U.S. iShares ETF business, it's an open mind.

"I've learned that you have to remain relentlessly intellectually curious," he said. "I always approach everything with strong opinions and very light convictions. If you don't remain curious, you're bound to miss something that could be good for your client and for your business."

The Brown University grad has applied that core belief throughout his career, which in one way or another has always centered on the client.

Starting out as a corporate lawyer, first as a federal law clerk, and later as an associate at Davis Polk & Wardwell in New York, it was in 2006 that he took his expertise in capital markets and regulation to BlackRock.

As he put it, "I've spent my whole career working with clients on issues at the intersection of capital markets, balance sheet management and regulation. I came to BlackRock to work with trading, investment and corporate functions on the same issues."

The position in the firm's legal department soon led him to BlackRock's Solutions business, where Small helped clients understand their risks and their objectives, and worked with them on portfolio construction, capital planning and balance sheet management, all through the lens of market structure and regulatory change.

It was during that time that ETFs as a structure caught his eye, "because they're multifaceted," Small said.

"ETFs are investment products that are used by self-directed investors as basic building blocks for buy-and-hold long-term investing," he said. "They're used by the largest and most sophisticated investors as tactical investment tools. They're used by broker-dealers as risk management tools. And they're used by other asset managers as ways of getting rapid exposure to huge swaths of the global market."

After eight years on the Solutions team, Small started an array of ETF projects, including the iBonds effort—a lineup of term-maturity ETFs—and third-party client ETF projects. These tasks were precursors to him joining the iShares team in March 2015.

Today Small is responsible for the U.S. iShares ETF business, overseeing more than 300 ETFs and $761 billion in assets under management. He's at the helm of the largest ETF issuer in the country.

His day job centers on helping clients build better portfolios while understanding the challenges and circumstances they face. He's also focused on the future of indexing and index products.

In 2015, iShares' ETFs captured $97 billion in net inflows, or 43% of market share, and much of that came from smart-beta and fixed-income strategies. Going forward, Small sees these two segments as growth leaders.

"Market-cap-weighted products will always be part of an investor's traditional asset allocation, but these products give you market returns," he noted. "More and more, investors don't want market returns; they want a specific outcome."

"Once you start to see people using factor-based and smart-beta strategies at the core of their portfolios, you're going to see a $1 trillion smart-beta market," Small said. "I think we'll get there by 2025. And perhaps even bigger."

Cinthia Murphy is head of digital experience, advocating for the user in all that etf.com does. She previously served as managing editor and writer for etf.com, specializing in ETF content and multimedia. Cinthia’s experience includes time at Dow Jones and former BridgeNews, covering commodity futures markets in Chicago and Brazil equities in Sao Paulo. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.