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. The newest crop boasts star founders and directors from the world of tech (former honchos at Microsoft and Benchmark Capital) and Wall Street (Burton Malkiel and Arthur Levitt). "It's almost like a silent revolution is going on in asset management," says Auke Douwe Veenstra, an analyst at Forrester Research. "It's losing its mystique."
A few of these platforms have been around for years without catching fire -- they manage tiny amounts of money -- but the latest iterations are ever easier to use and elegantly designed. Here's a look at a few of the most promising ones.
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