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The more things change, the more they stay the same, they say. Is that true of investment planning? How did Americans invest a hundred years ago? Is that very different from today?


It’s hard to imagine, but a hundred years ago, depositing money in a bank account was hardly a “no-risk” choice. The FDIC, or Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which today insures up to $250,000 per depositor, had not yet come into being. Nowadays, in the unlikely event of a bank failure, the FDIC would quickly reimburse each depositor’s account, dollar for dollar including both principal and interest, up to the insurance limit. Bank checking accounts, savings accounts, CDs, money orders, and cashier’s checks all qualify for FDIC insurance coverage.

Mutual funds

The funds introduced to the United States in the late 1800s were closed-ended funds with a fixed number of shares, while the very first mutual funds were introduced less than 100 years ago. According to Investopedia, the oldest mutual fund still in existence today is the Vanguard Wellington Fund, established in 1929.

Managed accounts

Separately managed accounts, or SMAs, were not offered until the l970s. Those clients who had specific objectives that did not fit any mutual fund could now have professional managers. SMAs are typically offered by registered investment advisors. Sheaff Brock’s history, for example, shows that the firm was founded in 2001 to manage innovative investment strategies for high net worth investors.


Advances in computer technology have made more thorough analysis of stock market trends possible, in addition to having contributed to a rise in “robotic” or computerized trading. Cloud computing has resulted in improved information security and greater ease of recordkeeping. In the modern computer age, it is easier than ever for even a very small investor to participate in the stock market. Because technology has made order execution faster with less error, traders do not need to physically be on a trading floor and can now do a higher volume of trades from their desks. Individual investors can use apps on their smartphones to invest in the market.


A hundred years ago, the U.S. stock market was dominated by railroad stocks, which made up more than 63% of the U.S. stock market value! The rest of the market consisted of iron, coal, steel, utilities, and tobacco. In contrast, today, the market is much more diversified, with a big chunk of it devoted to technology. In our great-grandparents’ time, many industries with which we are familiar simply did not exist: aircraft, modern pharmaceutical manufacturing and medical research, oil and gas drilling, smartphones, social media—the list goes on and on.

Social Security and Medicare recipients

Although we take them for granted to today, Social Security and Medicare are each less than 100 years old. While the Social Security Administration does not itself invest in the stock market, the recipients of Social Security, who are living longer and longer, do. Older people continue to fuel economic activity through spending on consumer goods and services, in addition to healthcare.

Socially responsible investing

Socially responsible investing is hardly new, and throughout the past hundred years, there have been groups who advocated investing in companies that promote human rights and protect the environment. Recent social issues such as income and wealth inequality, climate change, pollution, and corruption have been concerns that drive investors to choose socially responsible funds and managed accounts.

No, the investment climate today is hardly the same as that our great grandparents may have experienced. But, true to the old saying, the more things change, the more they remain the same. Investors still want their advisors to listen to them, understand their needs, and guide them through the process of choosing and monitoring their investments.

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