Put folks from Vanguard and Invesco PowerShares on the same panel at an industry conference devoted to exchange-traded funds, start discussing the growing role of smart-beta strategies in ETFs, and you’re sure to have a disagreement between these two leading ETF providers.

On Monday at the Inside ETFs conference in Hollywood, Fla., a panel of industry executives brought together to discuss ETF trends inevitably touched on the growing role of smart-beta funds in the space. And inevitably, Vanguard and Invesco had different takes on the benefits of smart beta, a broad term comprising non-market-capitalization-weighted index strategies.

The discussion was amiable, but the overall takeaway is that smart beta-oriented funds have been -- and will continue to be -- a growth driver in the ETF space. That, and other forces, should keep ETF usage on an upward trajectory into the foreseeable future.

Joel Dickson, global head of investment at Vanguard’s investment strategy group, said he sees two major ETF trends shaping up this year. First, he anticipates ETF use will increase due to what he termed the ETF familiarity effect. Namely, a couple of years ago Vanguard's research found investors are three times more likely to choose an ETF over a mutual fund of a similar type if they previously chose an ETF for another investment strategy.

Given the comparatively small numbers of retail investors who’ve invested in ETFs, that smells like a major opportunity for market share gains.

“Less than 10 percent of U.S. households actually hold an ETF today,” Dickson said.

The other major trend Dickson discussed is the ever-blurring lines between active and passive investing. “Passive ETFs are being used to implement active views, and indexes are being constructed to reflect approaches of active managers,” he said. 

That ties into smart beta, which straddles the line between active and passive management. And few ETF providers have embraced smart beta as much as PowerShares, whose fund roster includes 64 equity products and nine fixed-income offerings employing a variety of smart-beta strategies.

Dan Draper, managing director of global ETFs at Invesco PowerShares Capital Management, noted modern portfolio theory was built around traditional indexing, and that was the original focus of the ETF market because that’s where the money was. But now, he posited, investor demand for more targeted active solutions beyond simple market cap-weighted indexing will fuel the growth of smart beta-focused ETFs.