Exchange-traded funds have gained fast acceptance with the investing public since they hit the scene 21 years ago, so it’s not surprising they’ve been a popular item with financial advisors, too.

According to Cerulli Associates, advisor use of ETFs grew at an annual rate of about 27 percent during the five-year period through 2012.

ETFs accounted for $170 billion of the RIA channel’s assets by year-end 2012, or just 7.4 percent of the channel’s overall assets. That leaves plenty of room for future growth, Cerulli said.

Among other items examined in a recent Cerulli study, “RIA Marketplace 2013: The Changing Landscape of a Maturing Industry,” the Boston-based global analytics firm looked at expected changes in product use among advisors. It found 49 percent of advisors indicated they plan to increase their use of ETFs (30 percent said by up to 10 percent; 19 percent said by more than 10 percent).

Regarding other products, 30 percent of advisors said they planned to boost their use of equity mutual funds and 28 percent said the same about alternative/commodity mutual funds.

Rounding out the top five were individual equities (22 percent) and real estate investment trusts (21 percent).

According to Cerulli, advisory practices have basically settled on their core portfolio construction staples or manager selection beliefs, but want to develop additional relationships to help bolster their client portfolios.

“The challenge for providers hoping to gain scale in RIA portfolios is to help advisors understand both how the provider’s strategy is able to address client needs and how they are best equipped to provide the expertise the RIA practice needs,” Cerulli wrote in its report.

It added that advisor education “can be an uphill battle for product providers in the RIA space” because advisors might like kicking the tires of new products, but they won't make changes unless they can fully buy into a product's possibilties.

“Organizations committed to broadening their distribution within the RIA channel must attempt to create a compelling case on both the intellectual and emotional level,” Cerulli said.