“The more immediate approach to alpha is through structuring; you use options or products and structure trades so your risk-reward trade off is acute and you’re more favored to get a reward from taking risk,” said Singhal.  “On the other side of the spectrum is outright prediction, it’s an outright view, while it’s tactical it’s still fairly long-term. Most of us end up in one of these categories.”

Qplum offers its clients tactical strategies more resembling the former, highly diversified portfolios often containing 45 to 80 ETFs with frequent trading and rebalancing with goals of generating alpha and managing risks.

Singhal says that her portfolios are currently overweight U.S. equities, international real estate and commodities. They have also recently shifted away from long-term fixed income into short-term bonds and TIPS.

Main Management, on the other hand, offers ETF rotation strategies to its clients with a primary goal of generating additional returns.

“Sector rotation can be a nice way to own U.S. equity markets at this point in the cycle,” said King, noting that there were opportunities to create alpha in sector rotation. “A lot of that is caused by the dispersion between different sectors in the S&P 500. Returns have been very concentrated -- consumer discretionary, technology and health care have been drivers of returns this year. You have other sectors in line with cash.”

King’s sector rotational strategy is currently overweight financials, with slight tilts toward technology, health care and materials, he said.

Main Management also offers country-sector rotation and a global tactical allocation strategy. Those portfolios have been overweight Japan, Mexico and China, said King.

Still, regardless of strategy, it’s hard to beat the market, said Choy, which makes tactical management difficult because market performance has become a default benchmark for many investors.

Investors can now get market exposure for free: Fidelity became the first to offer a zero-expense ratio mutual fund earlier this year, said King, who believes a zero-fee ETF is a likelihood in the near future. In some sense, no-cost ETFs already exist as some large firms generate revenue by lending securities from an ETF’s underlying basket of holdings and pass some or all of those revenues on to the end investor, offsetting the ETF’s fees.

“Our industry will continue to shrink,” said Choy. “The more you get fee compression, the more things move to free, the more we have to deliver something.”