Exchange Traded Funds or ETF's are a great tool in today's world. Although the financial industry is highly regulated in many ways, there are also a lot of advantages to investors that weren't available a short time ago.
First, transaction fees are often much lower with on-line brokerages. You can manage your own account without having to call a broker. The trades are cheap and market orders for heavily traded securities fill almost instantly.
Now you also have the luxury of ETF's. As if mutual funds weren't good enough, now we have ETF's that track closely to a whole range of investments. ETF's can be traded just like stocks. If you wanted to set up a diversified portfolio of stocks, bonds, and gold, it isn't a problem now. You can buy an ETF that tracks the Dow, the S&P, the NASDAQ, or a number of other stock indexes. Then you can buy an ETF for long-term bonds like TLT. Then you can buy an ETF like GLD that traces the price of gold. You could buy $100,000 worth of these three things in minutes and you would pay less than $50 in commission with a decent on-line brokerage account.
There are many other ETF's that are available now. You can buy foreign currencies or you can buy foreign stocks like EWH that invests in stocks from Hong Kong. Or you can short the market. Better yet, you can buy ultra-short funds like DXD that has approximately a double inverse relationship with the Dow. If the Dow goes down 2%, then DXD will go up approximately 4%. You can also buy silver with SLV. There are many choices that have come about in just the last few years.
These ETF's are great tools. Study them and see what's out there and then you can use them for your investing.