Both XLF and VFH offer solid dividends, but bear in mind, the S&P 500 had a higher dividend yield over the trailing 12 months, through Dec. 29, at 1.9 percent. That's not a surprise: the financials sector is currently the only sector with trailing 12-month dividends below its 10-year average. It also means to get the highest yields from financials, investors must take on more risk.
When sorting through the financials, it would be a mistake to blindly chase yields. "Don't get fancy and let the yield wag the dog," Office said.
Consider PowerShares KBW High Dividend Yield Financial Portfolio (KBWD). It has yielded a hefty 8.2 percent over the past 12 months, but the ETF is flat this year.
One reason: KBWD's 40 holdings include lots of small banks, along with mortgage real estate investment trusts. "There are inherent risks in the ETF," said Robert Goldsborough, an ETF analyst at Morningstar. "And it hasn't been around very long," he said. KBWD launched in 2010, so it has not been through a financial crisis.
The expense ratio on KBWD is also very high—even compared with actively managed mutual funds—at 1.55 percent.
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Looking beyond the U.S. for financial service plays has its risks too. The iShares MSCI Europe Financials Sector ETF (EUFN) racked up an enticing 3 percent yield over the past 12 months. But it is down 2 percent year to date. "You must have a strong stomach to invest in European financial services," Goldsborough said.
Mishra thinks that European financial services may benefit from quantitative easing measures, and it's a trade that is stabilizing. Her only concern is that EUFN doesn't have a hedged currency structure, and so can be roiled by what has been a very strong U.S. dollar, which is expected to remain strong in 2015.