ETFs for beginners

What is an Exchange Traded Fund (ETF)?

An ETF is an investment fund, similar to a traditional managed fund, that is bought and sold on a stock exchange just like any share.

Most ETFs aim to closely track the performance of a given index or asset class, and provide the returns of that index/asset class – less any fees. ETFs provide access to a range of asset classes and investment strategies, such as shares (both domestic and global), bonds and commodities.


Advantages of ETFs


ETFs help investors easily and instantly gain investment exposure to a range of strategies, asset classes, sectors and geographical regions.


ETFs are traded on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) and so can be bought and sold just like shares during the trading day.


Information relating to ETFs, including underlying portfolio holdings and fees, can be accessed at any time via the fund manager’s website.


Because ETFs either aim to simply track the performance of an index or asset class, there are no in-built ‘active management’ fees to worry about.

Some things to consider

Before making any investment decision you should:

  • Speak with your financial adviser or broker
  • Evaluate your investment goals
  • Understand the investment structure, objective of the fund and costs involved by reading the relevant Product Disclosure Statement (PDS).

How to buy and sell ETFs

Buying and selling an ETF is very straightforward. ETFs trade exactly like shares, so if you are able to buy and sell shares than you are able to buy and sell ETFs! Like shares, ETFs can be bought and sold at any time during the ASX trading day through a stockbroker. That means there is no need open a separate trading account beyond your existing share brokerage account. Once your brokerage account is established, the ASX ticker of the fund is used make a purchase or sale, without the need for any additional paperwork. In addition, this also means there is no minimum investment requirement, beyond that stipulated by your broker.

What are the risks of ETFs?

The primary risks of investing in ETFs come from the investment risk associated with investing in the asset class or strategy that the ETF provides access to. For example, if you invest in an ETF which provides exposure to the broad Australian sharemarket, then naturally movements up or down in the sharemarket will generally lead to positive or negative investment performance in the ETF. For more information on the risks of a particular ETF, please see the relevant product disclosure statement (PDS).

Where are my assets held? What happens if the product issuer goes bankrupt?

ETFs are regulated unit trusts whose units trade on the ASX much like shares. They have the same legal structure as traditional managed funds and are subject to the highest form of investor protection regulation available in Australia.

The assets underlying ETFs do not form part of the assets of the product issuer. Rather, they are held on trust for the benefit of unitholders. As an extra layer of separation, the assets are normally held by an independent third party custodian appointed by the ETF issuer. This essentially means ETF assets are not available to creditors of the issuer in the unlikely event of a default.

I don’t see many ETF units being bought and sold during the day, does that mean ETFs are illiquid?

The open-ended structure of an ETF means that the liquidity of the ETF goes significantly beyond the amount of ‘on-screen’ volume an investor may see on the trading screen. In fact, the liquidity of an ETF is generally at least as much as the liquidity of the underlying assets held by the ETF. For more information on this, please read here.

To learn more about our range of ETFs available on ASX, view the full range of BetaShares Funds here.