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Nir Kaissar

The Era of Mutual Funds Is Dying. Long Live ETFs.

Exchange-traded funds, which have taken in $4 trillion since 2007, can do anything expensive mutual funds can do, only more cheaply.

The reign of ETFs is beginning.

The reign of ETFs is beginning.

Photographer: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

The battle between mutual funds and exchange-traded funds is over. ETFs won.

It wasn’t easy. ETFs have been around for nearly three decades, and hardly anyone noticed for a long time. The first ETF, State Street’s SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust, debuted in 1993. By the mid-2000s, there were roughly 350 ETFs, but the industry had gathered just $320 billion from investors from 1996 to 2006, according to Morningstar’s earliest available numbers. Meanwhile, mutual funds scooped up close to $2.3 trillion during the same time, their ranks swelling to 6,500 funds at the end of 2006.