[Editor’s Note: A more detailed article about the awards and the individual winners will appear in the May issue of ETF Report.]
It’s hard not to sound a little tone deaf, or even frivolous, to come out with our annual ETF Awards in the middle of a global virus pandemic that’s already dragged the market through some of the worst days we’ve ever seen.
But here we are.
As we all navigate quarantines and work-from-home challenges—to say nothing of our collective low morale as we watch market capitalization evaporate—we decided to err on the side of honoring our commitment to you.
2019 was a phenomenal year in the ETF space. Innovation and ingenuity ran high, with many first-of-a-kind and quick-to-grow ETFs coming to market. We saw newer and smaller ETF issuers gain significant momentum, not dethroning some of the big established names in this industry, but giving them a run for their product development money.
We also saw one of the most iconic players in ETF trading receive his much-deserved recognition—our Lifetime Achievement Award—for his leadership, his day-to-day impact and his still-growing footprint on the ETF market: Reggie Browne, principal of market maker GTS.
Please join us in celebrating the best of the best in the ETF industry in 2019.
Lifetime Achievement Award – 2019: Reggie Browne
Every year, ETF.com’s Lifetime Achievement Award goes to someone who has made outstanding long-term contributions to ETF investor outcomes, no matter the field they operate in. This year’s winner is longtime market maker Reggie Browne, often called the “Godfather of ETFs” by industry colleagues. He has been behind the successful launches of countless ETFs, seeding them and providing liquidity to them as they get off the ground due to his position as lead market maker.
Browne is also known for helping to get entire ETF markets up and rolling in foreign markets, as well as his education efforts in service of the ETF industry. Currently principal at GTS, he has held positions with such firms as Cantor Fitzgerald, Newedge USA, Susquehanna International Group and O’Connor Associates.
For his long and storied career, and his ceaseless efforts to support ETFs and the industry, he has been chosen as 2019’s Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.
- Eric Balchunas
- Bruce Bond
- Burton Malkiel
- Jan van Eck
Multiple Winner: iShares ESG MSCI USA Leaders ETF (SUSL)
One ETF stood out this year by claiming three separate awards. The iShares ESG MSCI USA Leaders ETF (SUSL) burst onto the scene and amassed more than $1 billion in assets at breathtaking speed to become the largest ETF launch of the past 15 years. Finnish mutual pension insurer Ilmarinen was one of the driving forces behind the fund’s launch and is its largest shareholder. SUSL, which invests in only in equities with the highest ESG ratings, has been named not only the Best New ETF of 2019, but also the Best New U.S. Equity ETF and the Best New ESG ETF.
Best New ETF – 2019
Best New U.S. Equity ETF – 2019
Best New ESG ETF – 2019
ETF Of The Year – 2019: Vanguard Total International Bond Index (BNDX)
This year, the award for ETF of the Year goes to the Vanguard Total International Bond Index (BNDX). With the SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (SPY) charging past records all year—ultimately rising more than 30%—it’s no wonder ETF investors started getting a little nervous and flooded into fixed income funds, to the tune of more than $150 billion in inflows. At the same time, BNDX did its job, trucking along behind SPY and moving steadily upward to offer a nearly 8% annual return.
Most Innovative New ETF – 2019: Direxion MSCI USA Cyclicals Over Defensives ETF (RWCD)
The Most Innovative New ETF award goes to the most groundbreaking and disruptive ETFs to launch during the year. For 2019, that would be the Direxion MSCI USA Cyclicals Over Defensives ETF (RWCD), one of a family of Direxion ETFs that take long/short positions in what are typically seen as opposing macro trends. The first fund of its kind, RWCD offers long exposure to cyclical stocks and short exposure to defensive stocks.
Best New International/Global Equity ETF – 2019: Freedom 100 Emerging Market ETF (FRDM)
The Best New International/Global Equity ETF for 2019 is awarded to a global or international ETF that launched during the year, in this case the Freedom 100 Emerging Market ETF (FRDM). The fund’s first-of-its-kind “freedom weighting” approach selects and weights countries based on the social, political and economic freedoms afforded to their citizens. The end result is that countries such as China are excluded from the fund’s index, offering a unique perspective on emerging markets.
Best New U.S. Fixed Income ETF – 2019: Quadratic Interest Rate Volatility and Inflation Hedge ETF (IVOL)
The Best New U.S. Fixed Income ETF award for 2019 was claimed by the Quadratic Interest Rate Volatility and Inflation Hedge ETF (IVOL). The actively managed portfolio of TIPS and options on the yield curve is providing institutional-type access to everyone, essentially providing further democratization to financial markets.
Best New International/Global Fixed Income ETF – 2019: SP Funds Dow Jones Global Sukuk ETF (SPSK)
The Best New International Global Fixed Income ETF award goes to the groundbreaking SP Funds Dow Jones Global Sukuk ETF (SPSK). The fund is the first fixed income ETF to provide diversified, transparent exposure to sukuks, which are a mainstay of Islamic finance, yet can be difficult for individual investors to access, as they typically trade in over-the-counter transactions.
Best New Commodity ETF – 2019: iPath Series B Carbon ETN (GRN)
The Best New Commodity ETF doesn’t always go to a traditional commodity fund. This year’s award goes to the iPath Series B Carbon ETN (GRN). The ETN was one of just three commodity products to launch during the year. GRN is a replacement product for the original iPath carbon product, which traded under the same ticker and shuttered in 2018. GRN offers similar exposure as its predecessor, maintaining its position as the only ETP to track carbon prices.
Best New Alternatives ETF – 2019: RPAR Risk Parity ETF (RPAR)
Alternative ETFs cover a wide range of strategies. This year’s award goes to the RPAR Risk Parity ETF (RPAR). The multi-asset portfolio has been resonating with investors at a time when concerns about global growth and equity valuations are widespread, gathering nearly $200 million in assets under management in just three months.
Best New Asset Allocation ETF – 2019: Strategy Shares Newfound/ReSolve Robust Momentum ETF (ROMO)
To be eligible for this award, a fund must encompass multiple asset classes. This year’s award goes to the Strategy Shares Newfound/ReSolve Robust Momentum ETF (ROMO). The fund is an ETF of ETFs that toggles its portfolio allocation between global equities and short- and midterm U.S. Treasuries. The mix, which is dictated by its quantitative underlying index, is based on momentum and other trend-following signals in a methodology designed by Newfound Research and Resolve Asset Management.
Best New Smart Beta or Factor ETF – 2019: GraniteShares XOUT U.S. Large Cap ETF (XOUT)
This award recognizes the GraniteShares XOUT U.S. Large Cap ETF (XOUT) for its innovative delivery of a quantitative, research-driven strategy intended to deliver superior long-term risk-adjusted returns. Issuer GraniteShares is best known for its low-cost commodity ETFs, but has branched out in new directions, most recently with the launch of XOUT. The fund uses a smart beta approach that focuses on excluding companies deemed likely to underperform rather than on picking outperformers.
Best New Active ETF – 2019: Avantis U.S. Equity ETF (AVUS)
The 2019 award goes to the Avantis U.S. Equity ETF (AVUS). The fund rapidly pulled in $160 million in assets under management, offering a low-cost actively managed quantitative strategy for just 0.15%. AVUS looks for highly profitable names that also offer good value, tilting its portfolio toward high-return, high-profit companies by focusing on those of smaller capitalizations, as well as value names.
Thematic ETF Of The Year – 2019: Global X Cloud Computing ETF (CLOU)
Thematic funds have proliferated in the ETF space in recent years, and launches have regularly opened up unique and innovative exposures to investors. The 2019 award goes to the Global X Cloud Computing ETF (CLOU). The fund provides exposure to a market-cap-weighted global equity index of companies involved in the cloud computing industry. CLOU was launched in April 2019 and quickly attracted assets, now standing at $391 million even after some AUM slippage with the current market conditions.
People’s Choice – 2019: ProShares S&P Technology Dividend Aristocrats ETF (TDV)
The People’s Choice award is selected every year during the Pundit’s ETF Panel at the 2020 Inside ETFs conference. This year, the audience awarded the prize to the ProShares S&P Technology Dividend Aristocrats ETF (TDV), which offers dividend-focused exposure to the S&P 500 Index’s technology sector, ultimately winning the competition.
ETF Hidden Gem – 2019: VanEck Vectors Green Bond ETF (GRNB)
The VanEck Vectors Green Bond ETF (GRNB) takes the ETF Hidden Gem award home for 2019, and it’s a particularly good fit. GRNB is a rarity in the fixed income space: an ESG-focused fund with a global scope and passive management. The fund invests in bonds issued to finance “green” projects—primarily solar, wind and low-carbon construction. Investors can get this underrated ETF at a reasonable expense ratio of 0.20%.
Best New ETF Ticker – 2019: Roundhill BITKRAFT Esports & Digital Entertainment ETF (NERD)
The 2019 award goes to the Roundhill BITKRAFT Esports & Digital Entertainment ETF (NERD). If you’re an e-sports enthusiast, or a die-hard video gamer, you may resent the implication. You may even argue you’re cool. But let’s be serious: You’re a total nerd, and Roundhill Investments is here for you. NERD is catchy, it’s memorable and it’s downright spot-on for this strategy. Go NERDs!
ETF Issuer Of The Year – 2019: Innovator ETFs
This award goes to Innovator ETFs, the first issuer to roll out defined outcome ETFs. The products protect investors from a certain percentage of loss during the one-year outcome period, but also limit the positive upside to a percentage determined at the start of each outcome period. The family of roughly 40 ETFs is all actively managed, and each ETF holds flexible exchange (FLEX) options tied to the index the funds aim to replicate.
- Global X
- J.P. Morgan Asset Management
New ETF Issuer Of The Year – 2019: Tidal ETF Services (SoFi)
The 2019 award goes to white label issuer Tidal ETF Services based on the rollout of the SoFi ETFs, which stand out among the other funds launched by Tidal, a division of Toroso Investments, for their innovation. The largest is the $80 million SoFi Select 500 ETF (SFY), a large-cap U.S. smart beta ETF with a growth tilt that has an expense ratio of zero. Essentially, SoFi launched its flagship ETF, and threw down a gauntlet all at the same time, during a period when issuers have been gradually shaving basis points off expense ratios, by simply tossing the expense ratio out the window.
- Hoya Capital Real Estate
- Syntax Advisors
Most Innovative ETF Issuer – 2019: ARK
This year’s award goes to ARK. In an ocean of passively managed ETFs and active management naysayers, small but mighty ARK continues to gain traction, grow its following, buck active outflow trends, and expand its reputation as the firm behind some of the most exciting ahead-of-the-rest disruptive technology ETF ideas. The issuer is known for its high-conviction portfolios designed to own the disruptive leaders.
- Alpha Architect
- Innovator Capital Management
- SoFi (Tidal ETF Services)
Index Provider Of The Year – 2019: Solactive
This year’s award goes to Solactive AG. A boutique index shop, Solactive was founded in 2007 in Germany, and its benchmarks now underlie more than 450 ETFs worldwide. In the U.S. alone, Solactive-branded indexes currently serve as the underpinnings for 63 ETFs. In its dozen or so years of existence, the firm has steadily worked its way into the fabric of the global ETF industry, not to mention other financial vehicles like structured products. Solactive offers its own lineup of benchmarks as well as customized products tailored to client specifications.
- ICE (Intercontinental Exchange)
Index of the Year – 2019: Life + Liberty Freedom 100 Emerging Markets Index
The 2019 award goes to the Life + Liberty Freedom 100 Emerging Markets Index. The benchmark’s 100 components are selected from developing markets that are arrived at in a manner largely unprecedented in the index space. The index evaluates countries based on criteria linked to the concepts of life and liberty.
- Cboe Global Indexes – Cboe S&P 500 Target Outcome Indexes
- MSCI USA ESG Leaders Index
- Solactive AG – Solactive Genomics Index
ETF Liquidity Provider of the Year – 2019: Jane Street
Veteran firm Jane Street is our voters’ pick for top liquidity provider of the year for the second year in a row. As one of the oldest and largest such liquidity providers, the firm trades in more than 5,000 ETFs worldwide. In addition, Jane Street continues to expand its reach, with over 100 ETF-dedicated traders doing more than $9.5 billion in ETF business daily. Voters praised Jane Street’s consistency, speed in execution, and commitment to product support across all points of an ETF’s life cycle.
- Citadel Securities
ETF Custodian of the Year – 2019: U.S. Bank
It’s that commitment to innovation that motivated our voters to choose U.S. Bank for ETF Custodian of the Year for 2019. Lauded for its great service and reasonable fees, U.S. Bank earned accolades for its behind-the-scenes product support, from concept to launch and beyond.
- Bank of New York Mellon
- Brown Brothers Harriman
- State Street
Best Online Broker for ETF-Focused Investors – 2019: Charles Schwab
The awards committee has given Charles Schwab this award, and it’s easy to see why. The website and mobile apps are well-designed, making trading and tracking portfolios a breeze. And don’t forget about the firm’s commission-free trading on all ETFs and long history of customer service excellence.
- Fidelity Investments
- Interactive Brokers
- TD Ameritrade
Best ETF Platform – 2019: Charles Schwab
Already beloved for its ultra-low-cost ETFs, Charles Schwab has also been awarded the title of Best ETF Platform of 2019. The firm is a pioneer in low-cost ETF investing. Even before commission-free trading became widespread, Charles Schwab took the lead, allowing hundreds of ETFs to be bought and sold without commissions on their platform. Today Schwab still offers trading in ETFs for free, access to its suite of low-cost funds, and a host of ETF resources, including screeners, research and education. The firm also offers a range of packaged solutions.
- iShares by BlackRock
- TD Ameritrade
Best ETF Issuer Capital Markets Desk – 2019: iShares
The 2019 award for Best ETF Issuer Capital Markets Desk goes to iShares. The job requires extensive data and analytics capabilities, trading expertise, industry and product knowledge, and deep relationships across the ETF ecosystem, from authorized participants to exchanges to regulators. The iShares capital markets desk excels on all those fronts, counting on various proprietary analytical tools and expertise to deliver effective trading execution and guidance to its institutional client base as well as the investing community at large.
- Charles Schwab Investment Management
- Nuveen Capital Markets Desk
- Vanguard ETF Capital Markets Desk
Best Index Provider Website – 2019: Alpha Architect
The first thing you see on Alpha Architect’s website is a statement: “An asset manager built to educate.” Backing that mission statement is a deep trove of data, blogs, analysis, research and insight available to anyone who’s looking to learn about, first and foremost, the firm’s approach to index and ETF investing, but also about investing in general. The firm’s website, alphaarchitect.com, is bright and intuitive, offering easy-to-navigate content, from a lineup of suggested investing books authored by Wes Gray, Jack Vogel and David Foulke, to links to its various strategies including long-only, alternatives and custom asset allocation, to opportunities for readers and clients to interact with the firm on social media.
- iShares by BlackRock
- Syntax Indices
Best ETF Issuer Website – 2019: iShares
iShares continues its winning streak, again taking home the award for best ETF Issuer Website as it has every year since the awards began. The site is easy to navigate, with a wealth of research, fund data, educational tools and other information. iShares is not only the world’s largest ETF issuer, it’s also maintaining an unparalleled website for its end users.
- Alpha Architect
- ARK Investment Management
- Fidelity Investments
- Vanguard Financial Advisor Services
ETF Investor of the Year – 2019: CLS Investments
The ETF Investor of the Year award goes to the ETF strategist, model portfolio provider, automated investment service or institutional investor that has done the most to improve investor outcomes in 2019. This can include novel approaches, education, results and advocacy. CLS Investments fulfills the criteria and then some, retaking a prize that it claimed in 2017, the first year this award was given out.
- Chuck Self (iSectors)
- Corey Hoffstein (Newfound Research)
- Mike Venuto (Toroso Investments)
ETF Law Firm of the Year – 2019: Morgan, Lewis & Bockius
Morgan, Lewis & Bockius takes the ETF Law Firm of the Year award as the law firm that has done the most to push the ETF industry forward, including driving new and innovative products through the SEC, advocating for the industry and the rights of investors, and improving outcomes for investors. The firm circulates newsletters on key ETF topics as needed, and its roster of lawyers with deep ETF experience includes such names as Laura Flores and W. John McGuire.
- Chapman and Cutler
- K&L Gates
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