This is not a paywall.

Register for free to continue reading.

The news sucks. But your reading experience doesn't have to. Help us improve that for you by registering for free.

Please create a password or click to receive a login link.

Please enter your password or get a login link if you’ve forgotten

Open Sesame! Thanks for registering.

First Thing, Daily Maverick's flagship newsletter

Join the 230 000 South Africans who read First Thing newsletter.

A South African Hero: You

There’s a 99.7% chance that this isn’t for you. Only 0.3% of our readers have responded to this call for action.

Those 0.3% of our readers are our hidden heroes, who are fuelling our work and impacting the lives of every South African in doing so. They’re the people who contribute to keep Daily Maverick free for all, including you.

We need so many more of our readers to join them. The equation is quite simple: the more members we have, the more reporting and investigations we can do, and the greater the impact on the country. We are inundated with tip-offs; we know where to look and what to do with the information when we have it – we just need the means to help us keep doing this work.

Be part of that 0.3%. Be a Maverick. Be a Maverick Insider.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

Easy ways for average investor newbies to get a toehold...



Easy ways for average investor newbies to get a toehold in the stock market

A pedestrian walks past the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) in the Sandton suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa, on Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Investing in the stock market or equities can be daunting, but relatively simple investment vehicles, such as unit trust funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mean that it is easily accessible to the average investor. Here’s what you need to know.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

Kingsley Williams, chief investment officer at Satrix, says the key difference between the two is that an ETF is accessed through an exchange such as the JSE, while a unit trust is accessed through the management company that issues the unit trust, such as Allan Gray or Coronation.

November 2020 marked the 20th anniversary since South Africa’s first ETF was introduced by Satrix. According to etfSA, a financial services provider, there were only five new ETFs issued in 2020. The five new ETFs all tracked foreign assets and were issued by Satrix.

The convenience of an ETF lies in being able to increase your exposure to different underlying assets by, for example, investing in the Satrix Top 40 ETF, which gives you exposure to the top 40 stocks listed on the JSE in a single investment.

Iva Madjarova, head of investment consulting at Sygnia, notes that ETFs are available across every major index, offering investor diversification. ETFs are also transparent and flexible, as they can be bought and sold at any time during the trading day through a stockbroking account.

 Weighing up costs

There are key cost differences. You will pay management fees on both ETFs and unit trusts, but these fees may be lower for ETFs since there are lower administrative costs.

“ETFs are also accessible through platforms such as etfSA or Sygnia, and charges for investments via the platform will differ depending on the platform and the number of assets you have through that platform as an investor,” Madjarova says.

When it comes to costs, your starting point is unpacking the various line items that make up the Total Investment Charge (TIC) of a product. Williams helped break it down:

Management fee. This is the fee charged by the management company and covers investment management fees, trustee fees and audit fees.

Total expense ratio. The TER is primarily made up of the management fee above, but includes other fund expenses, such as custody charges and VAT.

Transaction costs. TCs are the costs incurred as a result of trading the underlying securities within the fund.

Total investment charge. The TIC is calculated by adding the total expense ratio and transaction costs.

“On a like-for-like basis (that is, tracking the same index), an ETF typically has lower transaction costs relative to an equivalent unit trust, because of the different ways ETFs and unit trusts deal with contributions in and withdrawals out of the fund,” Williams says. “An ETF may also have a lower [total expense ratio] than an equivalent unit trust due to efficiencies in the record-keeping and administration of investors holding/transacting in shares of ETFs versus the units of a unit trust.

“These two factors combined typically result in an ETF having a lower [total investment charge] than an equivalent unit trust.”


While an ETF may be lower in costs, a unit trust offers the flexibility of different fee classes to cater for different types of clients.

Williams says unit trusts tend to be better suited to multi-asset (balanced) funds, as they don’t need to deal with market making across a variety of asset classes. For example, investing in a balanced fund unit trust will give you exposure to property, equity, cash and bonds in one investment. This means your investment portfolio is easily diversified.

That easy one-stop diversification means that a novice investor could be best served by starting out with a balanced unit trust fund and then expand their investment portfolio to include ETFs once they are more comfortable navigating the investment world.

 Price swings

Madjarova says ETFs are listed on a registered stock exchange and trade throughout the day at a fluctuating price, so you can take advantage of price swings. Index unit trusts, however, are not listed and are priced at a unit price every trading day at 3pm.

“Unit trusts always trade at the actual market value of their assets, while the prices of ETFs, like any other share, are set by the forces of supply and demand and may deviate from the market value of the underlying shares,” she says.

 Accessing your money

The past year has served as a global lesson on the importance of having funds available in an emergency. When it comes to getting your money out of the investment, ETFs trade immediately but have the same settlement cycle as equities, which means you will get your cash out within three days of trading.

Unit trusts have a T+1 settlement cycle, which means you get your cash out one day after your fund manager acts on your instruction to disinvest or cash out.

Williams adds that ETFs are now available on linked investment service providers (Lisps). Think of a Lisp as a one-stop shopping platform where you can access a variety of underlying investments.

“If you choose to invest via a Lisp, the decision then becomes which vehicle offers the exposure or investment strategy you require within your portfolio and which vehicle offers the most cost-effective exposure to that strategy,” he says.

 Know your goals

Successful investing does not have to be an either-or scenario.

Madjarova says making a choice to invest in a unit trust or an ETF largely comes down to personal preference.

“There is no reason not to have both [ETFs and unit trusts in your investment portfolio], particularly if your investment platform caters for both.”

Williams says there may be investment strategies you want exposure to that may only be available in one vehicle and not the other. “It is important to weigh up the different objectives of your savings and investments journey and combine the most appropriate vehicles and funds to achieve those objectives,” he says. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.



Comments - share your knowledge and experience

Please note you must be a Maverick Insider to comment. Sign up here or sign in if you are already an Insider.

Everybody has an opinion but not everyone has the knowledge and the experience to contribute meaningfully to a discussion. That’s what we want from our members. Help us learn with your expertise and insights on articles that we publish. We encourage different, respectful viewpoints to further our understanding of the world. View our comments policy here.

No Comments, yet

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted