The firms might not have the resources to launch new products just yet or may be waiting for the right time, Goldsborough said. "They want to make sure they pull everything together."

But there's no guarantee that if a company launches active ETFs, investors will come.

Lipper senior research analyst Jeff Tjornehoj said not many active ETFs have "caught fire." Half of the 33 active ETFs tracked by Lipper had outflows last year.

"There is really only one firm out there that has taken on actively managed ETFs with good success. That is Pimco," he said.

Pimco's Total Return Exchange-Traded Fund — launched last February and run by star manager Bill Gross — took in $3.7 billion in assets last year, Tjornehoj said. That's about 80 percent of all money flowing into active ETFs last year, he said.

Patrick Collins, a financial planner with Greenspring Wealth Management in Towson, uses ETFs for clients.

"ETFs are good vehicles in general because of the tax-efficiency and transparency," he said.

Regular mutual funds must pass on any capital gains each year to investors, which can trigger a tax bill. With ETFs, investors generally don't pay capital gains taxes until the investment is sold for a profit.

ETFs also trade throughout the day like a stock, so investors know the price of shares when they buy or sell. With a mutual fund, buyers and sellers get the price at the end of the day. And ETFs reveal their holdings daily, rather than every month or so with a regular mutual fund.

But Collins said he's likely to stick with passive ETFs, rather than active.

"From all the research out there, active management has very little impact on performance" and investors have to pay more for it, Collins said.

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