The two mostly widely held exchange-traded funds are from State Street Global Advisors.

They are the ship that launched the industry, the SPDR S and P500 Fund (SPY) and the ship that allowed everyday as well as institutional investors to invest in gold, without the trouble of buying bullion.

That, of course, is SPDR Gold Shares (GLD).

For a brief period in 2011, GLD surpassed SPY as the largest exchange-traded fund.

Which underscores just how nervous investors of all types and sizes are with their domestic economies and the world as a whole. When world economies head to the hills, investors like to hold gold.

Now, though, they don't have to actually hold gold. State Street will hold it for them.

Meanwhile, if you really believe in gold, you can use it to settle securities transactions.

In September, SIX Securities Services, in Switzerland, said it will treat gold as a currency.

Gold would be accepted as payment against the delivery of securities. One troy ounce would act as one unit. The value of the unit gets set in U.S. dollars, one gram valued against one dollar.

Now, SIX is not your ordinary provider of custodial services. It has a vault in the middle of Switzerland, with three-foot-thick walls and a four-foot-thick ceiling. It's been called the Fort Knox of Switzerland.

And it stores gold, for banks.

Now, it is taking that gold and turning it into a settlement currency, known as an XAU. The X means there is no country. AU is the symbol for gold in the table of elements.

Gold has become, it almost seems, the one asset that steadily appreciates.

Ten years ago, a single ounce could be bought for less than $500. In September, it took close to $1,900. Now, it still takes $1,720.

Shares in GLD in the last month have taken a 10.7% tumble. But they're still rising at a 7.5% annual rate. Way better than bonds. And, since inception in 2004, GLD has returned 20.3% a year.

Who needs gold?

Maybe no one. But it's probably time to think about putting an ETF based on gold in every customer's portfolio.

Unless you still think domestic stocks are the path to riches, in their lifetimes.

Subscribe Now

Access to premium content including in-depth coverage of mutual funds, hedge funds, 401(K)s, 529 plans, and more.

3-Week Free Trial

Insight and analysis into the management, marketing, operations and technology of the asset management industry.