Exchange-traded funds certainly have come a long way. SPDR S&P 500, introduced in 1993 as the first U.S. ETF, is as mainstream as can be imagined: a low-cost vehicle to track large-company domestic stocks.

In contrast, many recent ETF launches involve strategies ranging from high beta to low volatility, which can be considered alternatives to traditional holdings. Indeed, a 2014 Russell Investments survey found that “alternatively weighted indexes” is the most popular name in North America for smart beta index products.

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