Executive Director @ MSCI
“You can always talk your way out of a sale, but you can never listen your way out of a sale.”
JE: Please tell us about yourself and your experience. What was your first job in the ETF industry? How did you decide to pursue the career in the industry, what was the pivotal moment?
Robert: My first job in the ETF industry was in San Francisco in 2000. I worked for Barclays Global Investors (BGI), which was the asset management group at Barclays that launched iShares. BlackRock acquired iShares as a part of the buy-out of BGI in December 2009. My initial job at iShares was as a Business Development Associate – essentially inside sales with a bit of travel to the Midwest in the USA.
The pivotal moment was in 1998, when a wealth advisor told me “Why would I want to buy an index fund when I can buy SPY.” I had no clue what SPY this guy was talking about!….did he mean James Bond? Once I found out, I decided that I wanted to work with ETFs. I knew they would change the way people invested for the better.
JE: What has been the highlight of your career?
Robert: The highlight of my career thus far was working for iShares in the early years when ETFs were relatively unknown…until about 2005. I worked with a fantastic group of people in both the US and Europe. There was an amazing start-up and entrepreneurial atmosphere and we stayed energized knowing we were changing the way that people invest. I would also say that I was always very proud of being asked to leave Swiss private banks when we told them ETFs did not usually pay retrocessions. I’m sad to say that philosophy does not hold true today for all ETF issuers.
JE: What is the best bit of advice you’ve received in your career?
Robert: A former sales manager who told me that “you can always talk you way out of a sale, but you can never listen your way out of a sale”
JE: If you can give advice to those who are just starting in the ETF industry, what will it be?
Robert: Try to find a role where you have a personal connection to the work, specific eco-system or alignment with the company culture. The ETF industry now encompasses roles from consulting to customer service….so find a role where you want to go to work every day.
JE: What key skills you think are necessary to have in order to be employable and successful in the industry?
Robert: Along with the technical skills that go along with specific roles, I would say that the most successful people I have worked within the ETF industry over the last 16 years were people that appreciated the value of team-work…who were able to motivate teams to accomplish much more than teams with a few star performers.
JE: The growth of ETFs has been phenomenal. What would you say are the most significant changes in the ETF space in the past few years?
Robert: There are quite a few changes, so it’s hard to isolate just one! I will have to say that the entrance of predominately actively managed fund companies is a very significant change – it’s really a signal that asset managers see the ETF structure as an efficient delivery mechanism for active strategies…not just something that lived on the fringes of the index manager eco-system. For example – The growth in self-indexing or quant active strategies via ETFs is a natural result of players like GSAM, Fidelity and Franklin Resources entering the US ETF market.
JE: Is there anything that you believe everyone in this industry should be working towards?
Robert: The entire industry should be working on how to increase the on-exchange trading of Exchange Traded Funds. It would be a very sad day and massively ironic if these amazing investment vehicles were only tradable OTC by institutional investors. There is an on-exchange trading eco-system within the ETF ecosystem that needs to be incentivised, sensibly regulated and supported by ETF issuers and stock exchanges.
JE: What do you think is the “next big thing” – or what should we all keep an eye out for?
Robert: I’m going to sound like an old dog here…but after 20 years of working in asset management industry, I get nervous when I hear expressions like the “next big thing”! Having said that, I would expect and hope to see more “outcome oriented” ETFs. Examples here are multi-asset ETFs that target specific levels of risk for specific levels of return. In more simple terms…”balanced” and “asset allocation” funds will likely see continued significant inflows – especially in the 401k and retirement markets. The advance in research and creation of strategic beta indexes will enable the launch of multi-asset ETFs that will give actively managed balanced funds a run for the money! I would also highlight socially responsible investment strategies as an interesting theme in the outcome-investing category.
JE: Anything else you would like to add?
Robert: I would like to give a shout-out to the Women in ETFs mentoring program. I think this program is a great example of how ETF industry professionals can encourage young people starting out in the working world to explore a career path in the ETF ecosystem. It’s particularly exciting to hear about people from operations, marketing, finance or other non-investment / trading backgrounds who have discovered ETFs are not so complicated and are now enjoying a job in ETF land!