A:

Some of the exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that track the banking sector are financial ETFs with varying degrees of exposure to banks, while others are pure-play bank ETFs. Some ETFs focus on the international financial services sector, whereas others concentrate on U.S. banking segments such as major banks, regional banks or community banks.

An ETF is a marketable security that tracks indexes, index funds, commodities or bonds, for example. Like mutual funds, ETFs are designed to reduce risk for shareholders through the use of diversification. Index mutual funds and most ETFs are passively managed, seeking to match the fund's performance to a specific market index before fees and expenses.

However, in contrast to mutual funds, ETFs trade the same way as common stocks in stock exchanges. Unlike mutual funds, ETFs do not have the net asset value calculated at the end of each day, but ETFs are more transparent than mutual funds. Mutual funds typically disclose their holdings quarterly, whereas ETFs do so daily.

Common ETFs in the global financial sector include KBW Bank ETF, iShares Global Financials ETF, SPDR S&P Global Financials Sector Index and SPDR S&P International Financial Sector ETF.

As its name implies, KBW Bank ETF is a pure-play ETF for the banking industry. Before expenses, it attempts to closely match the returns and characteristics of the KBW Bank Index, an index of geographically diverse companies representing national money center banks and regional banking institutions.

IShares Global Financials seeks to track the investment results of an index made up of diversified global equities in the financial sector. This fund offers exposure to companies providing financial services to both commercial and retail customers, including banks, investment funds and insurance firms.

Common ETFs for tracking U.S. financial services companies include iShares U.S. Financials ETF, Financial Select Sector SPDR, Guggenheim S&P 500 Eq Wght Finl ETF, ProShares Ultra Financials and Vanguard Financials ETF.

Financial Select Sector SPRD is home to dozens of stocks. Holdings include major U.S. money center banks such as Wells Fargo & Co, JPMorgan Chase & Co, Bank of America Corp and Citigroup. However, this ETF also has holdings in real estate investment trusts such as Simon Property Group as well as insurance providers such as MetLife and American International Group.

For investors seeking to avoid investments in big banks, there are ETFs that specialize in U.S. regional or community banks. For example, SPDR Regional Banking ETF follows the S&P Regional Banks Select Industry Index.

IShares U.S. Regional Banks ETF tracks the Dow Jones U.S. Select Regional Banks Index, giving investors exposure to around 60 stocks. This fund is concentrated on some of the big names in the regional banking industry, such as U.S. Bancorp, PNC and BB&T.

SPRD S&P Bank EFT is not a pure regional bank ETF, but the majority of its assets are regional banks, with smaller allocations to thrift and mortgage finance companies, diversified banks and other diversified financials.

For its part, First Trust NASDAQ ABA Community Bank Index holds positions in more than 100 small banks. Based on assets size, this ETF excludes all of the 50 largest banks and thrifts. It also excludes companies with credit card or international specializations.

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