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Canada Gets Its First AI-Run Exchange-Traded Fund

November 1, 2017

Artificial intelligence, long used in stock picking and other financial services, is making its way into one of the most popular kind of investment instruments around.

The Globe and Mail reports that Horizons ETFs Management will launch Horizons Active AI Global Equity ETF (which stands for “exchange-traded fund”) today on the Toronto Stock Exchange with the ticker symbol MIND. This follows the debut of the very first AI-run ETF on the U.S. stock exchange last month. The AI Powered Equity ETF (ticker AIEQ) uses IBM's Watson technology—which, let’s be honest, may not be the wisest investment strategy ever—to make picks by analyzing data from over 6,000 equities. The AI also looks at information like economic data, regulatory filings, quarterly results, headline news, and even social media.

ETFs are a popular investment fund vehicle that typically track indexes like stocks or bonds. Part of their appeal is that they can be traded like stocks and are typically cheaper to own than mutual funds or other similar products.

MIND was designed by Qraft Technologies, a South Korean financial technology firm, and will track 50 investment metrics and rebalance the investments monthly. To train the AI, Horizons gave it 10 years of investment data.

Although it only launched October 20, AIEQ has already made some bets that let it stand out from human-run funds, according to Nicholas Colas, a cofounder of DataTrek Research. AIEQ has a few positions that are 2.5 to 3 percent of its portfolio each, which is larger than most managers make.

“It’s not afraid to make big bets,” Colas says.

As of Wednesday morning, AIEQ is down 1.3 percent since its launch, while NASDAQ is up 0.9 percent over the same period. But it’s too early to tell if AI-managed ETFs will do better than humans. Colas points out that hedge funds each spend tens of millions of dollars hiring quants to do all kinds of analyses on mountains of financial data—which uses plenty of computing muscle, as well as sophisticated algorithms. Technology is, in other words, already a big part of stock picking, and  these AI-powered ETFs are going to have their work cut out for them.

“This is a big challenge,” Colas says. “Beating the stock market makes Alpha Go look like checkers.”

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