BlackRock's Deborah Fuhr talks to Joanne Young about the early days of ETFs and her team's work tracking their growth
Arguably the most renowned figure in the ETF industry, Deborah Fuhr has been watching the market grow for 14 years. When she joined Morgan Stanley as the head of marketing and sales for ETFs in 1997, the industry consisted of just 21 ETFs and assets of $8bn.
“It was pretty challenging,” she says. “People were either saying they had no interest because of the lack of distribution fees and rebates, or they were active managers. Many people were indifferent in the early years.”
Now working as BlackRock’s global head of ETF research and implementation strategy, her team’s latest industry report documents 3,469 ETPs and assets worldwide of over $1.5trn. Fuhr comments: “I think it demonstrates that once investors try ETFs, they are won over by the benefits.”
She attributes the financial crisis with driving the industry’s rapid evolution, explaining that the particular characteristics of the products became especially important to investors in the aftermath of the 2008 credit crisis.
In fact, Fuhr began work at BlackRock the day Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy. “That really got things off to a running start. It proved the impetus for people to embrace ETFs, because suddenly everyone was concerned about counterparty and issuer risk, and in particular the transparency, cost effectiveness, liquidity and ability to trade at any time during the day with multiple brokers.”
Since she began work there in 2008, her BlackRock team’s flagship ETF Landscape series has grown to a distribution list of over 12,000 individuals.
The reports have their genesis in Fuhr’s earlier work at Morgan Stanley, where she began writing a weekly piece on ETFs in 1999. That commentary grew into the production of regular handbooks, compiling a list of all the funds available from different providers.
In its first conception, the data was presented on one laminated sheet of paper; the BlackRock ETF Landscape Industry Review for January was 152 pages long. The reports are now translated into Chinese, French, Italian and Spanish.
“Being in the product early, even at a time when it was failing to attract much interest, has paid off in spades,” says Fuhr. “That firsthand knowledge of what has happened in the industry, why things have happened, knowing the clients, their views and how they have used ETFs over the years, is so useful.”
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