Ameriprise Financial seems to be throwing its weight behind the future of actively managed exchange-traded funds through its subsidiary Columbia Management Investment advisors.

Columbia today announced an agreement to acquire Grail Advisors, a registered investment advisor that offers actively managed ETFs. The deal will allow Columbia Management, and ultimately Ameriprise Financial, a back door to exemptive relief from the SEC to offer actively managed ETFs, a process that can normally take months or even years to achieve.

Details of the transaction were not disclosed, but Grail has struggled financially and was forced to fold two of it active ETFs. While the market for passive ETFs that track indexes has exploded, the future for active ETFs remains unclear. Some investment management executives believe that the best active managers who dislike revealing their portfolio holdings on a quarterly basis will balk at releasing them on a daily basis.

"This jump starts our entrance into active ETFs," said Colin Moore, chief investment officer of Columbia Management. "It will enhance our already deep product line-up and allow us to reach even more investors with our broad investment management capabilities. We intend to utilize this acquisition to build an extensive offering of actively managed ETFs over time."

Columbia Management is the seventh largest investment manager of long-term assets in the U.S., with $355 billion under management as of Dec. 31, 2010. The firm said it plans to work with its broad array of distribution partners to grow the active ETF market. The acquisition could ultimately allow Columbia to expand its other offerings into an active ETF platform.