Though it has been difficult to track just who has driven the record-breaking trading in exchange-traded funds over the past few years, the industry has long known that its investors are a mix of institutional and individual investors. What hasn't been as well reported is that many of those individual investors are purchasing ETFs on their own — whether they have an adviser or not.

Cogent Research said two-thirds of the 4,000 investors with at least $100,000 of investable assets it surveyed in October had bought ETFs.

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