etf-centre-blog7-feature

It's hard to believe, but there was a time when investing was simple. Investors bought one or two funds that were like Swiss Army knives—expected to do everything.

Looking at data from the Investment Funds Institute of Canada, back in 1963 when it was formed, there were 26 funds, with a combined $1 billion in assets. Mutual funds didn't begin their dizzying leap in annual growth rates until 1990, when there was $25 billion in AUM and 422 funds.

That was perhaps too many for an individual investor to keep track of, but not enough for a skilled advisor, especially as many of those funds would have been restricted in access.

By the late 1990s, the mutual fund market had exploded. Retail investors needed a program, just as they would at a baseball game. To serve them, a half dozen mutual fund guides were published every year. The brokerage houses had mutual fund analysts, some of whom wrote weekly for newspapers; others were tapped on to fill the monthly mutual fund guides published by papers such as the Globe and Mail. For advisors, there were BellCharts and PALTrak, the forerunners of today's Morningstar Canada.

It is not difficult to detect a similar trajectory with ETFs in Canada. For a long time, there was only one: TIPs, sponsored by the Toronto Stock Exchange. Its direct competitors were index funds managed by the banks and some independent shops, such as Altamira. Generally, these index funds consisted of a Canadian, U.S. and EAFE equity fund. Passive investing was simple.

But the proliferation of ETFs makes it as hard to pick a good one as it was to pick a good mutual fund in the 1990s.

Already brokerage—and Morningstar—analysts are on the case. Will we see a repeat of the 1990s mutual fund books?

We need to. ETF investing isn't as simple as before.

Scot Blythe is a Toronto-based financial writer.
Originally published on Advisor.ca