• ETF Insights

    ETF 101: Understanding the Basics

    08 August 2019

    This five-part educational series will provide you with a better understanding of ETFs, from what they are to how to potentially use them within an investment portfolio. We will look at the main features and underlying mechanisms of ETFs and their market structure. We will also share practical guidance on evaluating an ETF and best practices around trading. In this first part, let’s start with the basics.

    ETF 101: Understanding the Basics
    ETF 102: The Inner Workings of ETF Creations and Redemptions
    ETF 103: Is This ETF Right for Your Portfolio?
    ETF 104: Getting the Most Out of Your ETF Trades
    ETF 105: Gaining Efficient Access to Bond Markets with Fixed Income ETFs

    Options for Investors

    An ETF (Exchange Traded Fund) is a diversified collection of assets similar to a mutual fund, though a key difference is that an ETF trades on an exchange throughout the day like a stock. Being relatively low cost, tax efficient, and generally easy to buy and sell, ETFs have become a popular choice for many investors.

    As of July 2019, there was a total of 1.684 ETFs domiciled in Europe, accounting for more than € 770 billion in assets under management.Through ETFs, investors can gain access to a wide variety of asset classes and strategies—from stocks and bonds to commodities, domestic and foreign markets, individual sectors, alternative investments and sophisticated active strategies. Investors can use ETFs to support a range of their investment goals, whether ETFs form the core of a portfolio or are used to add diversification or manage potential risk.

    Key Attributes of an ETF

    Low Cost

    ETFs are known for their relatively low cost and simple fee structures. Unlike mutual funds, there are no minimum investment amounts beyond the share price of the ETF. Buying and selling an ETF is akin to trading a stock. Therefore brokerage commissions and trading spreads are considerations when evaluating the total cost of an ETF.


    Underlying ETF holdings are generally disclosed in full on a daily basis, and share prices are updated in real time. Investors can gain up-to-date insight into their range of exposures, which can empower more informed asset allocation decisions.

    Tradability and Accessibility

    Investors can quickly gain access to different asset classes, geographic regions, sectors, or strategies, from niche to broad. ETFs can offer exposure to investments that might otherwise be difficult to access, such as commodities or currencies. Investors are also able to trade ETFs intraday and employ trading strategies not possible with mutual funds, such as selling short or using limit orders.

    ETFs and Mutual Funds Compared

    Both ETFs and mutual funds have attractive investor benefits including portfolio diversification and professional management. They also have some key differences of which investors should be aware. Below is a summary comparison of key attributes of each structure.

      ETFs Mutual Funds
    Pooled fund of securities offering diversification benefits X X
    Professionally managed X X
    Returns based on fund's underlying holdings X X
    Intraday Trading X  
    Minimum Investment Size   X
    Sales Commissions
    (front-end or back-end loads)
    Trading Spread X  
    Brokerage Commission X  
    Transparency Holdings disclosed daily Holdings disclosed monthly, quarterly or semi-anually
    Average net expense ratio1 0.56% 1.12%

    Key Takeaways

    ETFs are versatile tools for investors, suitable for a wide range of investment goals. Being able to trade ETFs on exchanges like stocks gives investors flexibility to employ different trading strategies and offers a relatively quick way for investors to add diversification to their portfolio. Features such as daily transparency of holdings, simple fee structures, and tax efficient operations make ETFs historically a cost-effective and straightforward investment vehicle.

    ETF issuers are continually introducing new strategies, from traditional index-tracking funds to innovative funds constructed around investment themes. As with any investment, investors should carefully evaluate an ETF to determine whether it fits well within their portfolio.


    Source: Bloomberg. As of 31/07/2019.

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    Index Descriptions

    All indices named in the commentary are unmanaged indices and include the reinvestment of all dividends, but do not reflect the payment of transaction costs, advisory fees or expenses that are associated with an investment in the Fund. An index’s performance is not illustrative of the Fund’s performance. Indices are not securities in which investments can be made.


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