‘SPDR Woman’ Helped Drive ETF Innovation for Decades
This article is part of an ongoing series celebrating the 30th anniversary of the first ETF listed on U.S. exchanges.
Read more from our 30th anniversary coverage:
Jim Ross Looks Back Over SPY’s 30 Years
Vanguard Zeros in on BlackRock’s ETF Crown
30 ETF Milestones Over 30 Years
ETF Industry’s Next 30 Years of Twists and Turns
The death of Kathleen Moriarty shortly before Christmas rocked the U.S. ETF industry. It occurred just weeks before the 30th anniversary of the launch of the product that opened the door for her to become one of the industry’s most prominent figures. Her impact cannot be overstated.
At the time of her passing, Moriarty was senior counsel in the corporate and securities department of Chapman and Cutler. When she was helping to bring the SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (SPY) to market, she worked for Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe.
In the years after SPY’s launch and its eventual resounding success, she was often referred to as the SPDR (Spider) Woman, a nickname she proudly adopted along with an affection for spider-shaped jewelry.
At the same time, she also continued to drive innovation in the ETF space, working on some of the best-known products currently trading, such as the SPDR Gold Trust (GLD)—the first physical gold ETF—and the first leveraged and inverse ETFs. Most recently, she had turned her attention to cryptocurrency and digital assets, filing the first prospectus for a physical bitcoin ETF a decade ago.
“She took mundane ’40 Act law and made magic with it, creating the first U.S. ETF, but also more complex ETFs down the road,” said GTS Principal Reginald Browne.
Jim Ross, former chairman of State Street Global Advisors’ SPDR arm, who also worked on bringing SPY to market, pointed out Moriarty’s legal efforts to bring SPY into existence.
“Kathleen’s impact on this was huge,” he noted. “She was battling for this in D.C. with the SEC for years before I even got to know her.”
It was this experience navigating the SEC to create SPY that helped her to guide those more complex products to market, according to Clifford Weber, the founder of Financial Products Consulting Group and former executive vice president of development and strategy at the American Stock Exchange, where SPY first listed.
“Kathleen was one of the people early on who was involved in generating all of the files, filings, requests and exemptive relief—all those parts that became kind of standard issue,” Weber said.
“There were a series of exemptive requirements [or] relief that needed to be granted, because ETFs don't fit in some of the requirements of traditional ’40 Act and even some of the ’33 Act stuff,” he added. “She was very much involved in helping craft and justify or explain the needs for exemptions from certain requirements [from] early on.”
Those efforts gave her what Weber termed “very unique experience” and knowledge of the arguments around different issues related to the ETF vehicle.
“She brought a whole lot of experience that very few people had,” he said, highlighting her love of the challenges posed by her work and her creative nature.
A Big Personality
Known for her witty humor and gracious nature, she was a popular figure in the ETF world, often speaking at conferences and other events. She was also on the board of the Women in ETFs organization, and according to WE founder and ETFGI Deborah Fuhr, she did the legal work to set up its status as a nonprofit organization pro bono.
“She was a pioneer and an innovator in the ETF and financial industry. Her legacy will live on,” Fuhr said. “She was a nice, fun, smart, happy person who was always willing to help people. I will miss her.”
Phil Bak, CEO of Armada ETF Advisors and previously a managing director involved with listings at the NYSE, remembers Moriarty as a big personality.
“The investment industry, the asset management industry and even the ETF industry can sometimes be a little bland,” he said. “It doesn't look like South by Southwest or a rave, it's a pretty sober and responsible, prudent group of people. She was also brilliant and doing big things, but had an air of individuality to her. She did really stand out.”
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