These are my top picks for innovations that most benefit personal investors.
#6: Decimal pricing. Do you remember when stocks were priced in fractions? Like 23 and 3/8? This was not cool. Not only was it clunky, but it meant that bid/ask spreads were usually stuck at 1/8 of a dollar per share, or 12.5 cents per share. Luckily, today most investments are priced in decimals. Some exceptions include bonds and the interest rates on most mortgages. How archaic!
#5: Free online investment info. Information used to largely come in paper form, and cost money. Or you could pay tons of money for Quotron… really not practical.
#4: Discount online brokers. My Dad used to pay $50-$100 per stock trade — over the phone with a broker. Today some of my ETF trades are free, many of my trades average about $1, and my most expensive trades cost $8.
#3: Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs). ETFs fix most of the problems with mutual funds such as high(er) expenses and lack of intra-day trading. ETFs also open up a wide variety of investment options including access to commodities, leveraged funds, and precious metals.
#2: Index investing. Index investing brings two huge advantages. First, incredibly low costs. Second, maximum diversification. Index investing has, and continues to revolutionize the investing playing field.
#1: 401(k)s (and IRAs). Named after a once-obscure IRS code, 401(k)s, or 401Ks, offer investors decades of tax-deferred growth opportunity. IRAs offer a similar advantage. Finally Roth IRAs offer similar tax-deferral opportunities where the tax benefit is back-loaded.