There have been a number of wide-eyed calls for industry growth — PwC last year forecast that ETF assets would nearly triple in the next five years alone — so Fink's optimism is hardly isolated.
The big story then, is more likely to be the evolution in usage. More investors are using ETFs to blend strategies, combining the opportunity-seeking of active management with the diversity of passive investing. ETFs allow investors to be exposed to a sector like energy without having to take on the risk of getting blown out should an individual stock tank.
"We are seeing more investors use ETFs to express active bets in a certain way," said Alex Bryan, director of passive strategies research at Morningstar. "A lot of times managers are trying either to hedge their exposure to certain risk or to express a macro bet on certain things."
Examples would be as simple as buying the iShares iBoxx $ High Yield Corporate Bond fund to get exposure to junk bonds by not having to buy individual company issuance, or as complicated as moving quickly and out of other funds as a way to short-term trade sectors ahead of earnings.
Some of the more exotic products may be out of the realm of what retail investors do, but institutional investors — pension, insurance companies, endowments — are finding the funds valuable to execute their strategies.
"The industry's growing because there are new adopters coming on line every day," said Matt Collins, director of U.S. product operations at ETF Securities, which focuses on commodity funds.
"Particularly for hedge funds, the tactical side of the institutional world is starting to use ETFs more and more to express pretty minute theories or investment themes," he added. "It could be corporate high yield, it could be subsectors like biotech, it could be momentum ETFs that only target stocks with momentum in them. They're starting to use ETFs, where just a few years ago maybe they were using futures or individual stocks."
For BlackRock, the trend has been particularly profitable. The firm pulled in a record $73.8 billion in long-term net inflows to iShares products.
"There's newer and newer uses for ETFs every single day," said BlackRock President Rob Kapito. "It's not only stealing market share, it's creating market share, which is the great opportunity for all of us."