The best ETF platforms enable you to buy Exchange Traded Funds which are a basket of shares, funds, currencies or commodities in one go that roughly track the performance on the underlying assets. ETFs are one of the cheapest and most effective ways to start investing in the stock markets. We have ranked, compared and reviewed some of the best FCA-regulated ETF platforms in the UK to help you choose the most appropriate account for your investment objectives.
Best ETF Platforms
- Interactive Investor – best overall ETF platform
- Hargreaves Lansdown – best full-service ETF platform
- AJ Bell Youinvest – best low-cost ETF investing platform
- Saxo Markets – best ETF platform account for international trading
- Interactive Brokers – best ETF platform for sophisticated investors
- IG – best ETF platform for trading on margin
ETF Platform Reviews
In our reviews, we highlight the pros and cons of some of the best ETF platforms including, what you can invest in, how much it costs, and how they compare to the competition. We also explain what makes them different and tell you who they are most appropriate for so you can choose the best ETF platform for buying ETFs.
Interactive Investor ETF Investing
✔️ Fixed ETF platfomr fee
✔️ Excellent range of ETFs
✔️ Lots of ETF research and analysis
❌ No commission-free ETF trading
❌ No ETF derivatives
❌ No lifetime ISA
Interactive Investor ETFs Review
Interactive Investors ETF platform offers investing and trading in ETFs, these are open-ended funds that typically track the performance of an equity index, sector, commodity or other investment themes.
Most ETFs are passively managed meaning that they aim to match the market return rather than outperform it. As such the price of the ETF reflects the performance on the assets it is tracking.
ETFs are among the best investing innovations of the last couple of decades and their proliferation means that investors and traders can quickly and easily allocate to almost any investment theme using these Exchange Traded Funds. The shares of which can be bought and sold like any other stock.
To invest you simply need to identify an ETF that meets your objectives and place an order to buy those shares. Once again II provides details of ETF performance and popular ETFs among its clients alongside topical and educational articles.
II’s flat fee charges apply which is £9.99 per month for a trading and or ISA account, inclusive of one free trade per month and additional trades charged at £7.99 each. SIPP holders pay an additional £10.00 per month admin fee on top of the £9.99 charge.
FX conversion fees will apply to trades in ETFs not priced in pounds sterling.
Hargreaves Lansdown ETF Investing
✔️ Excellent customer service
✔️ Lots of ETF data and screeners
✔️ Cap on fees for large portfolios
❌ ETF costs can be expensive
❌ No commission-free ETFs
❌ No Euro-based ETF accounts
Hargreaves Lansdown ETF Review
Hargreaves Lansdown’s ETF paltform offers a huge range of exchange-traded-funds tailored to various investment strategies. They are free to hold with charges coming through a sliding annual charge depending on how many trades you make. For those making less than ten trades it will be £11.95, between 10 and 19 trades it is £8.95 and for more than 20 trades it is £5.95.
Hargreaves Lansdown offer some of the more expensive fees of comparable providers. However, they rely on their dominant market position, reputation and expertise to attract those looking for a premium service. However, there is a growing number of low-cost trading options such as Freetrade, or Trading 212 which offer zero commission. They are more limited than HL but offer an extremely accessible and low-cost way to get started.
Saxo Markets ETF Investing
✔️ Excellent international ETF range
✔️ Lots of ETF account types
✔️ ETF direct market access
❌ Too complicated for beginners
❌ Derivatives pedegree
❌ HQ not in the UK
Saxo Markets ETF Review
Saxo differs from other ETF platforms as they also enable traders to speculate on the price of exchnage-traded-funds going down as well as up through their CFD trading account.
With Saxo Markets, you can invest or trade in over 5,500 ETFs from 30 exchanges around the world.
As Saxo is more of a trading platform that an investing account it is geared to more experienced sophisticated or professional investors who are prepared to take more risk.
IG ETF Investing
✔️ Wide ETF investment options
✔️ Good ETF research and analysis
✔️ ETF derivatives also available
❌ No lifetime ISA
❌ No junior investment account
❌ Some maybe put of by derivatives background
IG ETF Review
IG’s ETF platform enables clients to invest and trade in over 2,000 ETFs and is different to most investment platforms as you can trade ETFs tax-free with a spread betting account as well as an ISA. You can also speculate on the price of ETFs going down through CFDs (or spread bets) which can be helpful for portfolio hedging.
You also have the option of slecting your own ETFs to invest in or using IG’s “Smart Portfolios” to buy ETFs for you.
AJ Bell Youinvest ETF Investing
✔️ Wide range of ETF investments
✔️ Lots of different account types
✔️ Good customer service
❌ No ETF commission-free investing
❌ Limited ETF research and analysis
❌ Slow account opening
AJ Bell Youinvest ETFs (Exchange Traded Funds) Review
Through AJ Bell Youinvest’s ETF platform, it’s possible to invest in over 1,500 exchange-traded funds (ETFs).
There are ETFs that:
- Track specific indexes such as the FTSE 100 index
- Track specific markets such as the US stock market
- Provide exposure to investment themes
- Track bond indexes
Fees for ETFs are the same as the fees for buying and selling shares.
Compare ETF Platforms
Use our comparison of the best ETF platforms to compare each provider by account types, what you can invest in, and fees. We only include providers that are authorised and regulated by the FCA where your funds are protected under the FSCS and where customers have voted for them in our awards survey.
|ETF Broker||How can you invest in ETFs?||How much does ETF trading cost?||More Info|
|Account Fee: £9.99 monthly|
Standard Deal: £7.99
Discount Deal: £3.99
FX Conversion: 1.5%
|Account Fee: 0.45% yearly|
Standard Deal: £11.95
Discount Deal: £3.95
FX Conversion: na
|Account Fee: £0|
Standard Deal: £8
Discount Deal: £3.99
FX Conversion: 0.5%
|Account Fee: £0|
Standard Deal: £3
Discount Deal: £0
FX Conversion: 0.5%
Your capital is at risk
|Account Fee: 0.25% yearly|
Dealing charge: From £1.50
per online deal
Discount: £4.95 for shares,
where there were 10 or more online share
deals in the previous month
US Shares: £9.95
plus FX charges
What are ETFs?
ETFs mean Exchanged-Traded Funds and are one of the fastest-growing areas of the financial markets. Investors like them because they are cheap and transparent, and offer easy access in terms of coverage. Even sophisticated hedge funds trade ETFs because of their deep liquidity.
According to some estimates, assets held by ETFs worldwide have doubled over 2013-2018 to more than US$5 trillion. In Europe, AUM of the entire ETF sector is estimated above $800 billion – a number that is expected to grow further in the coming years.
How do ETFs work?
ETFs are essentially baskets of shares that can be traded in one go. So instead of buying 15 different mining shares, you can buy a mining ETF.
With ETFs now increasingly popular, investors need to learn how to take advantage of this burgeoning asset class. Broadly speaking, ETFs offer investors one of the following benefits:
How to trade and invest in ETFs
ETF investment platforms let you trade and invest in exchange-traded funds which are diversified market investments. This diversification spreads the risk of trading or investing on the stock market but are easier to manage than multiple separate investments. Compare brokers that offer ETF trading & investing.
Here is a quick guide to some of the best UK brokers that offer access to ETFs for trading or investing:
- Hargreaves Lansdown – ETF investing
- Saxo Capital Markets – DMA ETF CFDs
- IG – ETF spread betting
- Nutmeg – Wealth management through ETFs
The risks & rewards of investing in ETFs
|Pros of ETF investing||Cons of ETF investing|
|👍Buy groups of stocks or assets for diversification||👎Additional annual costs for holding ETFs in a portfolio|
|👍Buy protections against the market going down||👎ETFs do not perfectly track an asset (gold for example)|
|👍Buy commodities, currencies or property as easily as buying a stock||👎Dividends not as high as owning individual stocks|
Diverse ETF portfolios
One of the most important uses of ETFs is to diversify your portfolio across asset classes. In the past, you need to buy stocks and gilts separately, topped up with a vault full of physical gold coins. Now, you can easily diversify across different asset classes in a single stock account.
For example, with just five ETFs, you can have a balanced exposure of equity, bond, property, and gold.
- iShares FTSE 100 (ISF)
- Vanguard FTSE All World ETF (VWRL)
- SPDR Barclays 15+ Year Gilt (GLTL)
- iShares UK Property (IUKP – holding REITs)
- iShares Physical Gold (SGLN)
If you hold another five ETFs, you can gain exposure into mid-/small-cap, emerging market equity, corporate bond, dividend, or sector ETFs. Wonderful, isn’t it?
Of course, the trick now is to allocate capital efficiently across each asset class. This, however, is dependent on investor’s personal views and circumstances.
As a general rule of thumb, the younger the investor the more risk he/she should take. Younger investors should aim for long-term capital appreciation, which may carry somewhat higher risk, such as emerging markets ETFs like Vanguard FTSE Emerging Market (VFEM).
Hedging with ETFs
Earlier this year, I discussed hedging market volatility with ETFs (see here).
To recap, when you have a portfolio of shares but do not wish to sell any even though you think the market is toppy, you could buy volatility ETFs. These volatility ETFs go up in value when equity prices fall.
The second way to hedge with ETF is to buy short ETFs. A short ETF moves in the opposite direction to the index it tracks. For example, a 1% drop in the FTSE 100 Index will result in a 1% rise in the short ETF value. Most of these short ETFs are synthetic ETFs.
In the UK, the Xtrackers FTSE 100 Daily Short (XUKS) is one such ETF that offers an inverse performance to the FTSE 100 Index (see below). It rallied from 380 to 430 in the second half of 2018 as the FTSE 100 weakened from 7,700 to 6,700.
A word of caution: Like volatility ETFs, inverse ETFs are not meant for long-term hold – simply because of the way these ETF returns are calculated. They could lose value even when the underlying index is rangebound. Therefore, the holding period of these short ETFs must be short in duration.
Generating income from ETFs
For older investors, the focus would be income. There are several ways to extract income from ETFs. Broad equity-focussed ETFs may not satisfy some investor’s requirement completely because the average yield could be too low. To focus on dividends would require a different composition.
To this end, iShares UK Dividend ETF (IUKD) selects FTSE 350 stocks based on their dividend yields. At the moment, it yields a chunky 6.5%. The only drawback is that high-yielding stocks may perform poorly – hence the high yield (see chart below). If you wish to buy high-dividend stocks from across the world, then Vanguard FTSE All-World High Dividend Yield (VHYL) may suit this purpose.
In the US, dividend aristocrats ETFs – ie, firms paying dividends for many decades – are popular. The SPDR S&P Dividend (SDY) has more than $17 billion AUM.
Apart from equity dividend, bond ETFs could be an area to earn income with relatively low price volatility. In the US, the short-dated bond fund – iShares 1-3 Year Treasury Bond ETF (SHY) – yields about 1.7%. Not too bad considering it holds US Treasuries only. In the UK, because the base rate is low, the payout is much lower. For example, the SPDR Barclays 1-5 Gilt ETF (GLTS) has a yield of less than 0.5%.
To chase yield, investors are more active into corporate bonds, such as the iShares Core £ Corporate Bond ETF (SLXX), which gives a comparatively better yield of around 2.7% (see below).
ETFs have benefited hugely from the secular shift into passive investing because active funds, despite their high fees, have not really outperformed the general market. So, why pay?
ETFs’ increasing popularity sets in motion a virtuous cycle. More providers move into the market, drawing innovation and providing wider asset coverage – which, in turn, attracts more capital. ETFs are proven financial instruments that should have a place in every investor’s portfolio.
How to choose which ETFs to buy
Exchange-Traded Funds are simple to understand. Below are five key factors that you should consider when choosing ETFs:
- Providers/Sponsors – Who is sponsoring the fund? These days the ETF industry is concentrated in a few big names. The scale and reputation of these providers should promote long-term stability. However, there are many smaller (niche) providers that are equally good. In the UK, iShares (Blackrock) and Vanguard are two trusted ETF providers.
- Underlying (Benchmark) Index – Find out what is the ETF try to achieve. Most ETFs will have an underlying index to track, which may or may be maintained by the ETF provider. Take the iShares FTSE 100 ETF as an example. The underlying index is the FTSE 100 Index, which is calculated by the FTSE Group. This index is then licensed to iShares, which attempts to replicate the returns of the FTSE 100 Index. Some indices could be esoteric and difficult to understand. They should be avoided. Also, if the underlying assets have illiquidity problems, this will result in large tracking errors. Additional questions you should ask:
- Equity ETF: Large-, mid- or small-cap? Single country or regional?
- Bond ETF: Gov or Corporate bonds? High-Yield (junk) or Investment Grade?
- Commodity ETF: Single or multi-sectors? Stocks or futures or synthetic? Roll Yield?
- Other questions: Is the ETF priced in domestic or foreign currency? Currency hedged? Where is the fund domiciled? Can it be traded within ISA or SIPP?
- Cost – Every fund costs money to run. Management fee, custody, and compliance costs could be considerable. Some ETF providers are more efficient, therefore provide cheaper funds for investors. The thing to look is the Total Expense Ratio (TER), which is the percentage of fund assets used to cover the fund costs annually. This figure will be published by provider for each fund. Avoid funds with high TERs.
- Size – Given the large range of ETFs in the market, investors naturally gravitate towards those ETFs that are better known, more efficient, and least costly. Choose larger ETFs as their liquidity/trading volumes are better. Remember that the asset class behind the ETF may also impact the bid-ask spread.
- Income – Does the ETF pay any income? Not all does, such as physical commodity ETFs. For many, dividends are paid on a periodic basis (quarterly or semi-annual). Find out more from the ETF’s fact sheet.
As a starting point, I list the Top 20 ETFs below for readers. They all trade on the LSE.
Once you have narrow down a list of ETFs, the next question is: How do you invest in ETFs?
Different ways to invest in ETFs
There are many ways to ‘skin a cat’, so to speak. For ETFs, the three investment methods are:
- Buy-and-Hold. This method is for investors who aim at long-term income and capital appreciation. This is suited for income-seeking, long-term portfolio builders, and investors that eschew market timing.
- Buy-and-Hold with some market timing. For example, you could use the so-called Ivy Portfolio strategy developed by Mebane Faber to protect your portfolio during bear markets. For instance, the method requires a monthly update on your portfolio holdings to see if the ETF has traded below its 12-month moving average. If it does, sell. An example of this method is given below.
- Market Timing. This mean you will trade and churn your ETF portfolio depending on your views and trading methods. Transaction costs will go up if the churn is excessive.
Another point to remember is the weighting of each ETF in your portfolio. You may put more capital into bond ETFs as they are less volatile than equity ETFs.
In conclusion, which method is for you? I can’t tell you this as the answer is inside you already. You just have to find it. In searching for the ‘perfect method’, however, it pays to remember John Bogle’s advice:
Long-term investment success is based on simplicity.*
*John Bogle was the founder of the Vanguard Group. He passed away earlier this month.
List of Top 20 UK ETFs
- iShares FTSE 100 (2000) – ISF
- Vanguard FTSE 100 (2012) – VUKE
- SPDR FTSE All Share (2012) – FTAL
- Vanguard FTSE 250 (2014) – VMID
- iShares UK Small Cap (2009) – CUKS
- iShares UK Dividends (2005) – IUKD
- Vanguard FTSE All World Equity (2012) – VWRL
- Vanguard FTSE All World Dividend (2013) – VHYL
- Vanguard S&P 500 (2012) – VUSA
- Invesco Nasdaq 100 (2002) – EQQQ
- iShares Core MSCI Europe (2007) – ISEU
- xTrackers Stoxx 50 (2008) – XESC
- Vanguard FTSE EM (2012) – VFEM
- iShares Core UK Gilt (2006) – IGLT
- SPDR Bloomberg Barclays 1-5 Year Gilt (2012) – GLTS
- iShares Sterling Index-Linked Gilts (2006) – INXG
- iShares Corporate £ Bond (2004) – SLXX
- Invest Physical Gold (2009) – SGLD
- ETFS Physical Silver (20 07) – PHAG
- iShares UK Property (2007) – IUKP
Investment Account Reviews
Interactive Investor reviews
Hargreaves Lansdown reviews
Nutmeg Investments reviews
AJ Bell Youinvest reviews