Some investing pitches target your inner optimist, with a promise of “outperformance” or a hot stock tip. But others address the pessimist in your soul: Something’s bound to go wrong, they whisper, and we can keep you safe.

You can expect the latter message to grow louder in the months ahead; the longer the stock market’s bull run continues, the more skeptics suspect a correction is due. And the loudest voices in the pessimist choir may belong to managers of hedge funds. Those funds, which rely on sometimes sophisticated strategies to protect clients’ portfolios, lost significantly less than stocks and mutual funds did in the last two U.S. bear markets. That, plus impressive short-term returns from a few celebrity managers, has helped them attract truckloads of cash; hedge fund assets now top $3 trillion.

The typical hedge fund charges annual fees that can top 1.5% of customers’ assets, plus up to 20% of profits. That hefty premium has created an opening for new exchange-traded funds that offer similar ritzy strategies, but at cheapskate prices. These me-too funds use a grab bag of investments to emulate hedge fund tactics. They’re unusually complicated for ETFs—and with about $3 billion in assets, they’re a tiny segment of the market. But in an era when the performance of low-fee funds is luring growing numbers of price-conscious investors, they could attract a lot of new money in a downturn.

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