The History of ETFs in the U.S.

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  • Distribution

From the launch of the first Exchange-traded fund (ETF) in 1993, the ETF market has continued to evolve in size and scope. For almost 30 years, innovation has been driving the growth of the market. Adoption of this popular wrapper has been propelled by relatively low fees, transparency, liquidity, and potential tax efficiencies. The ETF structure allows investors access to a diversified basket of securities that track an index, asset class, or sector.

What began as a “plain vanilla” offering tracking the S&P 500 index has evolved to leveraged and inverse ETFs, gold and silver ETFs, exchange traded notes, and in 2008, the first actively managed ETF. In 2019, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) approved the use of non-transparent and semi-transparent actively managed ETFs. Although over 90% of ETF assets are in passive, index-based funds, active ETFs are gaining momentum, as seen by actively managed ETF launches exceeding passive launches for the first time in July 2020.

Although growth of ETFs has been exponential over the past 10 years and flows have been positive, ETFs represent less than half of the assets in the vast mutual fund market. In the U.S., this totaled $20.8 trillion (about $64,000 per person in the U.S.) at the end of 2021.

U.S. ETF assets continued to attract investors with over $900 billion (about $2,800 per person in the U.S.) in net flows in 2021, breaking their 2020 record of $506 billion (about $1,600 per person in the U.S.). Growth favors the vehicle with the continued interest by new entrants evaluating the new innovative structures that continue to come to market.1

The ETF market has continued to grow at a healthy rate and seems primed for further growth globally as additional investors embrace and adopt the wrapper.

Launching an ETF

If you too are looking to launch an ETF, then download our guide below. We will walk you through everything you need to know to get started, including the differences between ETFs and other product offerings, startup costs, necessary service providers, and how to gain assets via distribution.


How we help

If you are ready to launch an ETF, then contact us today to get started.

Year-over-year, the most well-known global wealth and asset managers continue to choose ACA Foreside to help expand and support their product line up of ETFs. In 2023, our specialists partnered with more than half of the ETF launches in the U.S., and we support 1,000+ ETFs distributed across 275 managers. 

We work with asset management firms throughout the world to facilitate compliance and product distribution through legal underwriting, registered rep licensing and chaperoning, and DTCC/NSCC fund sponsorship. We have experience working with all types of pooled investment vehicles, such as traditional mutual funds, ETFs, alternative products, closed-end interval funds, and private placements.

Once launched, we can further support you with our broad range of advisory, managed services, and regulatory technology solutions, to help you grow and protect your business, while also addressing your compliance, ESG, investment performance, and cybersecurity challenges.

1 Morningstar Direct Worldwide ETF Net Assets and Flows as of 12/31/2021.