Thematic ETF Report: Q1 2021

The Global X research team is pleased to release the Q1 2021 edition of the Thematic ETF Report. The report recaps Global X’s classification system for disruptive themes and the thematic ETFs that track them. It also provides industry-level analysis of thematic investing ETFs, looking at new launches and closures, assets under management (AUM) movements, and fund flows.

Click here to download the Thematic ETF Report Q1 2021 

Thematic ETF Landscape – Q1 Recap

As of the end of Q1 2021, thematic ETFs AUM made up 2.2% of the US ETF industry’s $5.9T total AUM. This is up from 1.9% AUM share at the end of Q4 2020, continuing the segments’ rapid growth when compared to the US ETF industry as a whole.

Digging in, aggregate Thematic ETF AUM reached $133.1B at the end of Q1, up 28% from the $104.1B AUM achieved at the end of Q4 and exceeding the broader US ETF industry’s 7% quarter-over-quarter (QoQ) gain.

Positive net inflows contributed to $34.6B of Q1’s thematic ETF AUM gain, with market activity reducing the total gain by -$5.6B.

On a year-over-year basis, Thematic ETF AUM increased 430% from $25.1B at the end of Q1 2020.

There are now 163 thematic ETFs, up from 150 at the end of last quarter, with 13 launches and no closures.

Disruptive Technology-related themes saw the largest absolute gain in AUM ($18.0B), followed by those related to People & Demographics ($6.1B) and Physical Infrastructure ($4.9B).

At a theme-level, Healthcare Innovation remains the largest theme by AUM, followed by the CleanTech and Cloud Computing.

Note: T = Trillions, B = Billions.

Global X’s Thematic Classification System

Global X’s research team established a thematic classification system that provides a consistent framework for identifying disruptive themes and categorizing the thematic ETF space. Often, we have seen conflicting definitions of thematic investing in the media and financial world, which leads to confusion about which ETFs are thematic and what themes they are tracking. With the introduction of this classification system, we hope to provide more clarity around disruptive themes and their related ETFs.

Defining Thematic Investing

Global X defines thematic investing as the process of identifying powerful disruptive macro-level trends and the underlying investments that stand to benefit from the materialization of those trends.

By nature, thematic investing is a long term, growth-oriented strategy, that is typically unconstrained geographically or by traditional sector/industry classifications, has low correlation to other growth strategies, and invests in relatable concepts.

Notably, thematic investing does not consist of ESG, values-based, or policy-driven strategies, unless they otherwise represent a disruptive structural trend (e.g. climate change). Further, funds that adhere to traditional sector or industry classifications, or that are used primarily to gain exposure to cyclical trends (e.g. currencies, valuations, inflation) are not considered thematic. Finally, alternative asset classes, such as listed infrastructure, MLPs, and ubiquitous commodities are not considered thematic.

Classifying Themes

Global X’s thematic classification system consists of four layers of classifications: 1) Categories; 2) Mega-Themes; 3) Themes; and 4) Sub-Themes, with each layer becoming sequentially narrower in its focus.

‘Categories’ is the broadest layer and represents three fundamental drivers of disruption: exponential advancements in technology (Disruptive Technology), changing consumer habits and demographics (People & Demographics), and the evolving physical landscape (Physical Environment).

One layer down are ‘Mega-Themes,’ which serve as a foundation to multiple transformative forces that are causing substantial changes in a common area. Conceptually, Mega-Themes are a collection of more narrowly targeted Themes. For example, Big Data is a Mega-Theme that consists of Machine/Deep Learning, Cybersecurity, Quantum Computing, and Cloud/Edge Computing.

Further down, we identify ‘Themes’ as the specific areas of transformational disruption that are driving technology forward, changing consumer demands, or impacting the environment. There are currently 39 themes in the classification system.

‘Sub-Themes’ are more niche areas, such as specific applications of themes or upstream forces that are driving themes forward.

Thematic ETF Classification Global X ETFs

Thematic ETFs can target a specific category, mega-theme, theme, or sub-theme. Our categorization process seeks to find the best fit for a specific ETF, analyzing its methodology, holdings, and stated objectives. The thematic classification system is reviewed quarterly to consider new potential categories, mega-themes, themes, or sub-themes. As a new ETF launches or changes its strategy, its classification is evaluated immediately.


In an uncharted era of new technologies disrupting existing paradigms, demographics reshaping the needs of the world’s population, shifting consumer behaviors forcing changes to existing business models, and dramatic changes in our physical environment, we find that there is a growing need for a consistent framework to track these themes and the investment vehicles providing access to them.