For decades now, investors have benefited from falling costs and the steady march of democratizing forces. First it was discount brokers, then online brokers. More recently it’s been dirt-cheap ETFs.
In the past few years one aspect of this long-term shift has begun to accelerate: online-only brokerages that provide tools for small-time investors to manage and customize their investments in ways they couldn’t before. The number of companies offering such services has more than doubled, from 15 in 2011 to 37 today, according to Corporate Insight, a financial services research firm.