Active investors and active traders are expected to account for more than 40% of the U.S. investor market by 2012, according to a new report released by Celent on Wednesday, August 4.

This trend represents a big opportunity for the online brokerage industry, the firm said in a statement. “During the past year, firms have been adding a number of technology enhancements to be the online brokerage provider of choice,” said Alexander Camargo, a coauthor of the report, The Self-Directed Market. “Those firms that are willing to invest and adapt to client demands will be future industry winners.”

The new report is based on a two-month study of U.S. online brokerage firms. In it, Celent compares these firms’ technology developments and retail investor preferences, and identifies the various customer investor groups with details on investment objectives and trading strategies. The report compares trading technology developments and latest enhancements intended to attract the active investor category.

Key findings of the report include these:

? The online brokerage market is evolving and is slowly showing signs of recovery. Online firms continue to enhance trading functionalities, improve execution speed and further develop tools to create more robust trading platforms and attract all types of customer segments.

? Investors are increasingly moving toward the self-directed model. Celent expects an 8% increase by 2012.

? High trading volume and use of complex trading strategies make the active investor and active trader a very profitable segment for online brokerages. As these segments continue to grow and make up a good proportion of the self-directed investor market, online firms will need to enhance their platforms to remain competitive. The most important additions will include access to additional products, more sophisticated trading tools, enhanced education materials, more social features, improved mobile access and improved navigation and design.

? Online trading platforms and associated tools are key for active investor involvement.

? Firms are turning to social networking community tools and educational tools to enhance investor knowledge. Mobile trading applications are also in development across brokerage firms.

? Market volatility has led to greater demand by retail investors for a more diverse set of products, including options, futures and foreign exchange.

? The online brokerage sector will face more consolidation, driven by volatility and increased competition.

“Despite market conditions, the self-directed market showed signs of moderate growth of 3% in the past year,” Isabella Fonseca, coauthor of the report, said in the statement. “For the active investor segment, the investment experience has become less about the speed and cost of the transaction and more about the quality of service, access to robust functionality, and the overall convenience to proactively manage their investments, at any time and from any place.”

Michael S. Fischer (msf7@columbia.edu) is a New York-based financial writer and editor and a frequent contributor to WealthManagerWeb.com.