'My contribution has been different than most'

Past WP ETF award winner speaks out on significance of current nomination and how industry is reaffirming its strength

'My contribution has been different than most'

It’s not Florence Narine’s first nomination for a Wealth Professional award; in fact, she was declared ETF Champion of the Year at the WP Women in Wealth Management Toronto event last November. But even with that accolade under her belt, she expressed a sense of humility considering the crop of professionals she competed against. 

“When I look back at the winners of last year's Women in Wealth Management Awards, I realize how being recognized alongside such talented women was a great and humbling experience,” said Narine, who previously served as Head of Product at AGF Investments Inc. and is now the firm’s Head of Canadian Institutional and Key Accounts.

Now she is among the circle of 2020 nominees vying for ETF Champion of the Year. She joins eight other men and women who have made their names in Canada’s ETF space, with the ultimate winner to be decided at the upcoming virtual Wealth Professional Awards on September 30.

The WP Awards were established as a place for investment-industry movers and shakers to come together and recognize individuals who embody all the best their field has to offer. This year’s event promises to be one for the books, as it will be held for the first time in an online forum.

“I think my current nomination is exciting,” Narine said. “I see that there are three other women nominated aside from myself, which I think really highlights the level of gender parity that’s emerging in the industry. Hopefully, we can get to a point where men, women, and members of all diverse groups can be fairly considered alongside one another for the same awards.”

She regards her current nomination, as well as last year’s, as a testament to another flavour of diversity. While the other candidates were in the general mould of portfolio managers, leaders of industry associations, and investment strategists, her contribution to the ETF space has been through her work and demonstrated dedication on the product side.

“I think my nomination in this current group reflects a continued recognition of my contribution to the space, which certainly has been different than most,” Narine said.

Since last year’s win at the Women in Wealth Management event, Narine has continued her work to educate advisors, institutional investors, and end investors on the values and benefits ETFs can bring to their own portfolios, though she now has more of a hand in business development plans.

“The last contribution I make, which I see as a huge commitment, is to coach and mentor up-and-coming individuals committed to the ETF space, and I think that’s the one area that perhaps sets me apart,” she said. “Of course, I can’t do any of this without the great team dynamics we have at AGF.”

Asked to comment on the current state of the Canadian ETF industry, Narine made note of the decades-long history of exchange-traded funds in Canada, the latter 10 years of which was marked by growing success. And while critics of ETFs would say the recent COVID-19 downturn was their first real stress test, she contended that ETFs have proven themselves during other trials, most recently in the 2008-2009 financial crisis.

“Certainly, that time showed the resilience that ETFs could have in bear-market conditions, and that had a bit of a catalytic effect helping to propel the growth since that period,” Narine said.

True to her role as an educator, she highlighted the benefits of ETFs, including transparency in certain products, intraday tradability, and in some cases cost efficiency, but was careful not to hyperbolize their capabilities. “An ETF is a vehicle at the end of the day” with its own sets of limitations, she noted. But she also didn’t deny the robustness of the Canadian ETF space, which over the first six months of 2020 saw its strongest half-year of inflows in a decade. That, to Narine, reflected the diversity of choice and value that ETFs continue to bring to the market for clients.

Moving forward, she sees the industry continuing to evolve as the introduction of more active ETFs continues to change the dialogue from “active vs. passive” to one of investment vehicle choice. In addition, partly because of regulatory doors that have been opened, managers are able to deliver more strategies than ever through an ETF wrapper. The upshot, Narine estimated, will be the entry of increasingly thematic, non-correlated strategies that would go further beyond solving challenges and needs within the three- to five-year investing horizon, as well as growth and diversification in the liquid-alternative space.

“I think generally the growth of alternatives in Canada has really highlighted that the 60-40 model doesn't necessarily work like it used to,” she said. “I think as investors move towards something with a dose of alternatives that works better for them – whether that be a 60-30-10, a 40-40-20, or other versions of it – I think that's where ETFs actually really help solve that for a lot of portfolios, because alternative investing is a huge, huge bucket and that's the biggest challenge that folks have.”

And aside from being a core element of a new balanced portfolio, she believes ETFs will see new life as the general calm that defined the financial markets of the past ten years shifts into the rearview mirror. While the business of prognostication is a dangerous one, Narine ventured to guess that, at least in the very near term, investors should be prepared for a wild ride.

“I think we're going to see market uncertainty persist right into and through to the U.S. election and probably into Q1, Q2 of next year,” Narine said. “People may want some greater fluidity, greater liquidity, where they need it to navigate this market volatility. And ETFs certainly have the nimbleness to let investors access to a large toolkit of strategies to cope with that.”

The 2020 Wealth Professional Awards night, which this year is organized as an online event, is scheduled to start September 30, 12:00 PM. Those interested in joining the activities, which include the awards as well as virtual panel sessions by industry leaders, may register here.