ACA Global

Reflecting Back on the 30th Anniversary of ETFs: Regulatory History Frames Current Issues for ETF Industry

White paper

We partnered with K&L Gates to look back at the evolution of the ETF industry in the U.S. over the past 30 years. The themes highlighted in this paper will likely guide the continuing evolution of ETFs.


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The first ETFs were novel and intriguing, while today, they are an integral - and increasingly impactful - part of the investment management industry. ETFs have evolved to touch the global retail and institutional markets and even the crypto industry. 

The “ETF story” may be relatively brief compared to other investment vehicles, but, nonetheless, contains a variety of evolutions. In this paper, we summarize some of the key milestones in the last 30 years, such as the introduction of actively-managed and semi-transparent funds, as well as explore recent changes and future developments, such as those relating to funds offering exposure to spot bitcoin and ETF share classes. We also review the key themes of the “ETF story”, including the approach of the SEC to approving the initial ETF and all modifications to that initial model. These themes are likely going to guide the continuing evolution of ETFs.


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