The thing about investing, is that it needs to be done as early as possible, and never has there been a time when the young are so interested in the stock markets. That can probably be attributed to the stellar growth of big brand FAANG stocks, Tesla tweets, Meme stocks like Gamestop, and the boom in cryptocurrency. Alarmingly enough though, all of these are probably the riskiest types of investments you could possibly make. But it’s undeniable that they are the gateway to the stock market for first-timer investors. Beginners will no doubt get burnt, trying to time the market with highly volatile punts, but then hopefully calm down and realise that the most sensible way to invest is to leave it to the professionals, or buy and hold stocks you have an affinity with.

Which is what Dodl offers, it’s a combination of app-only stock brokers like Freetrade, where you can buy stocks and robo-advisors like Nutmeg, where you can just buy funds. Dodl is one of the only investment apps for beginners that offers both. But, and rather cleverly, they have limited the stocks you can buy to only those in the FTSE 350 (the most valuable 350 companies listed on the London Stock Exchange), which is a good thing because generally, these stocks are more established and less volatile than smaller caps stocks on AIM, which means (in theory at least) they should be less risky, but still offer some good growth and income opportunities through dividends. You can’t buy individual stocks in the live market though, as orders are only processed once a day, obviously to keep costs down, although that actually makes it less of a stock trading app and more of an investment service. You also can’t invest in individual US stocks at the moment (but they say these are to come).

Before I wrote this review I spoke to Emma Keywood, who was responsible for delivering Dodl for AJ Bell to entice new investors into the market. When I asked what she enjoyed most about Dodl, she said “getting the monster suit“, which was actually quite nice to hear because, AJ Bell is a very serious company, which looks after a serious amount of money (about £73bn for nearly 420,000 clients), so it’s good to see that Dodl have a sense of humour about investing, because sometimes that’s what is needed. She said the worst thing was the waiting, (which is what most founders say as when we interview them), despite the fact that Dodl only took 18 months to develop and launch (with the help of piggybacking on AJ Bells’ existing infrastructure). That is pretty impressive seeing as sometimes when you are dealing with legacy platforms, making a feature change can take that long.

Dodl’s tag line is “investing doesn’t need to be scary”, which is absolutely right, when done right. Investing isn’t scary, it’s actually incredibly boring, what you need to do, is just do it, and then do nothing (or if you do want to do something at least read the Art of Execution first). If you read any of our CEO interviews, in particular from fund managers, or the big platform CEO’s like HL founder Peter Hargreaves or II CEO Richard Wilson (I haven’t managed to blag an interview with Andy Bell yet), they all say that one of the most important things to do is start investing early. Because the longer you are in the market, the more chance you have to make money.

And the Dodl app does make it really easy to invest, the interface is simple, I managed to open an account in minutes, and you get the option to invest via a share dealing account, Stocks and shares ISA or private pension in a range of AJ Bell funds from cautious to risky or (as is essential now for the ESG-inclined) the AJ Bell Responsible Fund. If you want to invest based on a theme rather than risk, you can choose some friendly named funds like “The Home Team” (HSBC FTSE 250 Index Fund) or “Across the Pond” (Blackrock’s iShares US Equity Index Fund), or funds based on Tech Stocks or Bonds. It’s a bit annoying you can’t see the fund holdings on the app. Even though when investing in funds, you are putting your faith in the fund manager to do the hard work, it would still be nice to see what a fund’s top ten holdings are. Obviously, you can look this up on trustnet, but having it integrated into the app would be more engaging.

You can invest lump sums or drip-feed money into the market on a monthly basis, (monthly investing is a great way to ensure that you build your portfolio on autopilot) and Dodl has some of the cheapest investment accounts fees (0.15%) of any of the investing apps (Nutmeg charges 0.45% to 0.75%, Wealthify charges 0.6% and even AJ Bell’s main platform Youinvest charges 0.25%).

There are a few areas where I think they have missed a trick though. It would be better if it integrated with the main AJ Bell Youinvest platform, so as clients progress and become more sophisticated, they can simply make the switch to a more grown-up account with more investment options. The educational elements are very digestible for those about to start investing, but I would like to see firms, trying to educate earlier, before they hit 18, so a gamified version would be fantastic, to help children understand the importance of compound investing returns. 7IM tried it with 7IMagine (developed by some of their clients, who incidentally developed the original Donkey Kong game). I’m sure it would be easier to explain using a friendly monster than technical terms for children, but I find the Monster a little too childish for +18. Dodl said though, that the Monster actually tested very positively, so who am I to argue with that as am definitely not their target market and no doubt with the backing and supervision of AJ Bell, they have been very thorough.

There is a little niggle in the back of my mind though, I wonder how long it will be around as usually, these apps get developed in the other direction. In that entrepreneurs create an app at a loss that really engages with a younger audience and then gets bought out by one of the bigger boys after they have onboarded loads of clients (think Nutmeg being bought by JP Morgan, or Rooster Money being bought by NatWest). I got that feeling with PagoFX when I interviewed their CEO. PagoFX was a money transfer app that was launched by Santandar, where the bank essentially created a cheaper version of something they already offered, and because they were encumbered by compliance issues, weren’t able to market it or promote it in the nimble ways that a gungho start-up can.

Hopefully, though, Dodl can overcome that and get lots of people investing the right way by smashing out some great social media advertising, because the AJ Bell Youinvest brand is probably a bit too fuddy-duddy for the TikTok generation. If my children used it to start investing I’d be delighted because it is certainly a safe, cheap and easy way to start building a portfolio. Plus, when you are ready to graduate to a proper AJ Bell Youinvest account, it’s free to transfer your positions out.

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