It's the exchange traded fund shindig of the year, and it rocks. Without further ado, here's Matt Hougan -- president of ETF.com, which is organizing the event -- telling IBD what to expect from the eighth annual Inside ETFs conference taking place in Hollywood, Fla., Jan. 25-28:
IBD: How has the event grown?
Hougan: The conference has grown in terms of registrations every year, from 400-plus in year one to roughly 1,500 last year. This year, we are expecting that roughly 1,800 people will register for the event. That's a record, and marks the largest year-over-year growth we've ever had.
IBD: Which speakers are you personally most excited to hear?
Hougan: I'm excited to hear a lot of the talks, but two that stand out are Jeff Gundlach and the Ric Edelman/Adam Nash debate. Gundlach has encyclopedic knowledge and a sharp, cutting wit ... and he's been right about the markets for a long time. And with Edelman vs. Nash, you have the world's largest robo-adviser and the world's largest RIA (registered investment adviser) going at it on the future of financial advice. There should be fireworks!
IBD: What did it take to land Jeff Gundlach for the first time?
Hougan: Jeff spoke this fall at our Inside Fixed Income conference and was a huge hit with our audience. But this is his first time speaking at our big conference, and we're delighted to have him. DoubleLine and State Street Global Advisors are looking to launch an ETF together in the future , and both firms were helpful getting Jeff to Florida.
IBD: Karl Rove and Terry Bradshaw and James Carville, that's quite a coup, but ... why?
Hougan: Well, thanks! There are different reasons for both. We invited Carville and Rove because we've all seen what a big impact politics can have on our portfolios. Remember the U.S. default and the government shutdown? With Republicans taking control of Congress and the 2016 presidential election coming into focus, we wanted to give our attendees access to the best minds in politics to provide insights on potential risks and potential opportunities.
And Bradshaw ... well, Bradshaw is mostly for fun. We've got 3.5 days of hard-hitting content. It can be exhausting. It's a welcome relief to sit down to a good lunch and hear from a speaker like Bradshaw, who is funny and can talk about leadership and football. Let's us take our minds off of finance for a while.
IBD: Who are the major speakers? What will be their key messages?
Hougan: We've got one heck of a lineup this year, including Jeff Gundlach, because interest rates are on the rise and we need to know what to do with our bond portfolios; James Carville and Karl Rove, because politics matter to our portfolios; Rob Arnott, the father of smart beta, which is a hot topic with advisers right now; Robert Kaplan, our favorite geopolitical strategist and the best-rated speaker we've ever had, to talk about risks in the broader world.
Also, Brad Katsuyama, the hero of Michael Lewis' Flash Boys, to talk about how the market really works and how you should trade; Adam Nash, the CEO of the largest robo-adviser in the world, to talk about how robo-advisers might influence the financial market in the future; Ric Edelman, the largest adviser in the world, to talk about how to compete in today's market and win new clients; Dennis Gartman, Mark Yusko, Richard Bernstein, Brian Westbury and more -- some of the smartest people we know -- to talk about where to invest right now; and Terry Bradshaw, to give us some tips on what to watch out for in Superbowl 49!
There are more, but those are some of the highlights.
IBD: What are the most significant changes to the event?
Hougan: We're making a number of significant upgrades this year that the audience will appreciate, beyond the enhanced speaking faculty. We've made a major investment in the audio-visual setup of the main stage; we've enhanced the networking events and parties; and we've made a number of "behind-the-scenes" upgrades like expanded registration desks that will make the experience more seamless for attendees.
IBD: Who is the main audience? What do you hope they will walk away with?
Hougan: The primary audience is financial advisers. I hope they come away with ideas that they can put to work in their clients' portfolios; tips on how to accelerate the growth of their business; and a deeper understanding of the risks and benefits of ETFs. If they can do that while making new connections and having a good time, I'll be happy.
IBD: What are the key industry issues that you hope to address?
Hougan: I think investors are really wrestling right now with investment challenges as much as ETF-specific challenges. They're wondering, how do you generate yield without taking on too much risk? Or should I trust these new smart beta ETFs?
We hope to answer those questions at the conference.
We continue to need to educate investors about how ETFs work , how to properly trade ETFs and how to understand some of the more complex products out there as well. We have a whole day of "ETF University" on Jan. 25 that starts at the very beginning and covers all aspects of how to use ETFs in a portfolio. Whether you're new to ETFs or just need a brush-up, ETF University is a great way to stay on top of the space.
IBD: Are ETFs still misunderstood, still niche in terms of the average American investor?
Hougan: I think that's changing. ETFs are starting to make an impact on the average American, thanks largely to all the commission-free trading programs that have made buying ETFs a great idea for retail investors. This year, Charles Schwab ( SCHW ) has seen more flows into ETFs than into mutual funds. Think about that!
The average retail investor still has a lot to learn about ETFs, but they are coming up the curve quickly, and we expect that to continue for some time to come.