An ETF, or exchange traded fund, is a marketable security that tracks an index, a commodity, bonds, or a basket of assets like an index fund.
In the simple terms, ETFs are funds that track indexes such as CNX Nifty or BSE Sensex, etc. When you buy shares/units of an ETF, you are buying shares/units of a portfolio that tracks the yield and return of its native index. The main difference between ETFs and other types of index funds is that ETFs don't try to outperform their corresponding index, but simply replicate the performance of the Index. They don't try to beat the market, they try to be the market.
Unlike regular mutual funds, an ETF trades like a common stock on a stock exchange. The traded price of an ETF changes throughout the day like any other stock, as it is bought and sold on the stock exchange. The trading value of an ETF is based on the net asset value of the underlying stocks that an ETF represents. ETFs typically have higher daily liquidity and lower fees than mutual fund schemes, making them an attractive alternative for individual investors.
ETFs are passively managed. The purpose of an ETF is to match a particular market index, leading to a fund management style known as passive management. Passive management is the chief distinguishing feature of ETFs, and it brings a number of advantages for investors in index funds. Essentially, passive management means the fund manager makes only minor, periodic adjustments to keep the fund in line with its index. An investor in an ETF do not want fund managers to manage their money i.e., decide which stocks to buy/sell/ hold), but simply want the returns to mimic those from the benchmark index. Since buying all scrips that are part of say, the Nifty (which has 50 scrips) is not possible, one could invest in an ETF that tracks Nifty.
This is quite different from an actively managed fund, like most mutual funds, where the fund manager ‘actively’ manages the fund and continually trades assets in an effort to outperform the market.
Because they are tied to a particular index, ETFs tend to cover a discrete number of stocks, as opposed to a mutual fund whose scope of investment is subject to continual change. For these reasons, ETFs mitigate the element of "managerial risk" that can make choosing the right fund difficult. Rather than investing in an ‘active’ fund managed by a fund manager, when you buy shares of an ETF you're harnessing the power of the market itself.
ETFs are cost-efficient
Because an ETF tracks an index without trying to outperform it, it incurs lower administrative costs than actively managed portfolios. Typical ETF administrative costs are lower than an actively managed fund, coming in less than 0.20% per annum, as opposed to the over 1% yearly cost of some actively managed mutual fund schemes. Because they have lower expense ratio, there are fewer recurring costs to diminish ETF returns.