What is an ETF?

Read this guide to finally get to grips with ETFs and how they work

Last updated:

Warning: your capital is at risk. The value of investments can fall as well as rise, and you may get back less than you invested. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.
ETF stands for ‘exchange traded fund’, a type of investment that is bought and sold on exchanges. Read on to find out more about ETFs and how they can be used as an investment tool.

What is an ETF?

Just like investment funds, ETFs are made up of a basket of equities, bonds, commodities or currencies. ETFs aim to track the performance of an entire underlying asset or index – such as the FTSE 100

How does an ETF work?

For example, there are many ETFs designed to track the performance of the FTSE 100. This means these ETFs hold shares in the companies that make up the index. The proportions of shares held by the ETF allows it to track the performance of the index as closely as possible.

Say you invested in an energy ETF, instead of investing in individual energy companies, you’d be investing in the combined performance of many companies.

Types of ETFs

As well as ETFs which track indexes like the FTSE 100, there are also ETFs that track other things. Here are some of the more common examples:

  • Market ETFs
  • Bond ETFs
  • Commodity ETFs
  • Sector and Industry ETFs
  • Foreign market ETFs

Can you trade ETFs?

As the name suggests, ETFs can be traded on an exchange, just like equities on the stock market.

With ETFs you can spread bet, or trade CFDs on ETFs. Similarly you can buy or sell them with a share dealing account or through a stocks and shares ISA.

Check out the following share trading providers and see if one is right for you:

Updated November 21st, 2019
Name Product Price per trade Frequent trader rate Platform fees
£1.75 + 0.022% (max £5.00)
£1.75 + 0.022% (max £5.00)
Portfolio transfer fees (in & out)
Your capital is at risk.
from £7.50 on the Frequent Dealer Option (or 1% minimum £7.50)
£24 per quarter
£2.00 for a Share Account
Your capital is at risk.
£8
0.05% (min £5)
0.12% per year & transfer-out fee
Your capital is at risk.
From £7.99 on the Investor Service Plan
From £7.99 on the Investor Service Plan
No transfer fees or exit fees. £9.99 a month on the Investor Service Plan
Your capital is at risk.
£8
From £5
£0 - £24/quarter
Your capital is at risk.
£11.95
£5.95
Transfer out fee
Your capital is at risk.

Compare up to 4 providers

Updated November 21st, 2019
Name Product FTSE 100 daily spread Wall Street daily spread GBP-USD daily spread EUR-USD daily spread
eToro CFD Trading
eToro CFD Trading
150pips.
-
4pips. (variable)
3pips. (variable)
65% of retail investor accounts lose money when trading CFDs with this provider. CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage. You should consider whether you understand how CFDs work, and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money.
24option.com CFD Trading
24option.com CFD Trading
1pt. (fixed) margin: 0.5%+
0.8pts. (fixed) margin: 0.5%+
1.0pips. (fixed) margin: 0.5%
0.8pips. (fixed) margin: 0.5%+
84.94% of retail investor accounts lose money when trading CFDs with this provider. CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage. You should consider whether you understand how CFDs work and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money.
IG CFD Trading
IG CFD Trading
1pt. (variable)
margin: 5%+
1.6pts. (variable)
margin: 5%+
0.9pips. (variable)
margin: 3.33%+
0.6pips. (variable)
margin: 3.33%+
Spread bets and CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage. 76% of retail investor accounts lose money when trading spread bets and CFDs with this provider. You should consider whether you understand how spread bets and CFDs work, and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money.
Plus500 CFD Account
Plus500 CFD Account
1pt. (variable)
margin: 0.33%+
4pts. (variable)
margin: 0.33%+
2.1pips (variable)
margin: 0.33%+
0.6pips (variable)
margin: 0.33%+
80.6% of retail investor accounts lose money when trading CFDs with this provider. CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage. You should consider whether you understand how CFDs work and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money.
XTB CFD Trading
XTB CFD Trading
0.5
1
0.1
0.2
79% of retail investor accounts lose money when trading CFDs with this provider. CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage. You should consider whether you understand how CFDs work and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money.

Compare up to 4 providers

Updated November 21st, 2019
Name Product FTSE 100 daily spread Wall Street daily spread GBP-USD daily spread EUR-USD daily spread
IG Spread Betting Account
IG Spread Betting Account
1pt. (variable)
margin: 0.5%+
1.6pts.
(variable)
margin: 0.5%+
0.9pips.
(variable)
margin: 1%+
0.6pips.
(variable)
margin: 0.5%+
Spread bets and CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage. 76% of retail investor accounts lose money when trading spread bets and CFDs with this provider. You should consider whether you understand how spread bets and CFDs work, and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money.

Compare up to 4 providers

Updated November 21st, 2019
Name Product Cryptocurrencies Bitcoin daily spread Ethereum daily spread Market hours
eToro CFD Trading
eToro CFD Trading
Bitcoin, Ethereum, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum Classic, Ripple, Litecoin + more
0.75%
1.90%
24/7
65% of retail investor accounts lose money when trading CFDs with this provider. CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage. You should consider whether you understand how CFDs work, and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money.
24option.com Cryptocurrency CFD Trading
24option.com Cryptocurrency CFD Trading
Bitcoin, Ethereum, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum Classic, Ripple, Litecoin
30pips (variable)
6pips (variable)
Sunday 22:00 - Friday 21:59
84.94% of retail investor accounts lose money when trading CFDs with this provider. CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage. You should consider whether you understand how CFDs work and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money.
IG crypto CFD Trading
IG crypto CFD Trading
Bitcoin, Ethereum, Bitcoin Cash, Bitcoin Gold, Litecoin, Ripple
110 pips (variable)
leverage: 1:20+
5 pips (variable)
leverage: 1:5+
Saturday 8am -
Friday 10pm
Spread bets and CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage. 76% of retail investor accounts lose money when trading spread bets and CFDs with this provider. You should consider whether you understand how spread bets and CFDs work, and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money.
Plus500 Cryptocurrency CFD Trading
Plus500 Cryptocurrency CFD Trading
Bitcoin, Ethereum, Bitcoin Cash, IOTA, Litecoin, Ripple
24/7
80.6% of retail investor accounts lose money when trading CFDs with this provider. CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage. You should consider whether you understand how CFDs work and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money.
XTB Cryptocurrency
XTB Cryptocurrency
1%
1%
24h from 04:00 to 22:00
79% of retail investor accounts lose money when trading CFDs with this provider. CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage. You should consider whether you understand how CFDs work and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money.

Compare up to 4 providers

Updated November 21st, 2019
Name Product EUR/GBP daily spread USD/JPY daily spread GBP-USD daily spread EUR-USD daily spread
eToro Forex Trading
eToro Forex Trading
4 pips
2 pips
4 pips
3 pips
65% of retail investors lose money when trading CFDs with this provider. CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage. You should consider whether you understand how CFDs work and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money.
24option.com Forex Trading
24option.com Forex Trading
4 pips
3 pips
4 pips
3 pips
84.94% of retail investors lose money when trading CFDs with this provider. CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage. You should consider whether you understand how CFDs work and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money.
Pepperstone Forex Trading
Pepperstone Forex Trading
1.9pips
1.2pips
1.9 pips
1 pip
74.6% of retail investors lose money when trading CFDs with this provider. CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage. You should consider whether you understand how CFDs work and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money.
Plus500 Forex Trading
Plus500 Forex Trading
-
-
-
-
80.6% of retail investors lose money when trading CFDs with this provider. CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage. You should consider whether you understand how CFDs work and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money.
IG Forex Trading
IG Forex Trading
0.9 pips
0.7 pips
0.9pts (variable)
margin: 3.33%+
0.6pts (variable)
margin: 3.33%+
Spread bets and CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage. 76% of retail investor accounts lose money when trading spread bets and CFDs with this provider. You should consider whether you understand how spread bets and CFDs work, and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money.
FXTM Forex Trading
FXTM Forex Trading
2.4 pips
2.1 pips
2.1 pips
2.0 pips
64% of retail investors lose money when trading CFDs with this provider. CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage. You should consider whether you understand how CFDs work and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money.
XTB Forex Trading
XTB Forex Trading
0.1 pips
0.1 pips
0.1 pips
0.2 pips
79% of retail investors lose money when trading CFDs with this provider. CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage. You should consider whether you understand how CFDs work and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money.

Compare up to 4 providers

Pros and cons of ETFs

Pros

  • Broad exposure to a whole industry
  • Easy access
  • Transparent
  • Continuous pricing
  • A single transaction

Cons

  • As with all trading, it involves risk!
  • Though diverse, not immune to volatility
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