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ETFs vs. mutual funds: choosing the best investment vehicle


Dec 19, 2023
ETFs vs. mutual funds

Investing can be a daunting task, especially for novice investors. With so many investment vehicles in the market, deciding which suits your financial goals and risk appetite can be overwhelming. Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and mutual funds are commonly used investment options. ETFs and mutual funds offer diversification as they invest in a basket of securities, exposing investors to various stocks, bonds, and other assets. However, there are significant differences between the two that investors should consider before making an investment decision. This article will discuss the critical differences between ETFs and mutual funds in Singapore, helping investors choose the best investment vehicle.

Investment structure

ETFs and mutual funds have different structures, impacting how investors buy or sell their shares. ETFs are traded on a stock exchange, allowing investors to buy or sell them anytime during market hours at the current market price. In contrast, mutual funds are valued once a day, determined by the fund’s net asset value (NAV). Therefore, investors can only buy or sell mutual funds at the end of the trading day, which may delay executing the trade. ETFs have lower minimum investment requirements than mutual funds, making them more accessible for retail investors.

It is essential to note that both investment structures have pros and cons. ETFs’ real-time pricing allows investors to execute trades quickly and exposes them to market volatility. On the other hand, mutual funds’ NAV-based pricing provides a more accurate reflection of the fund’s value, but it may result in missed trading opportunities.

Investors can look online for ETFs and mutual funds to compare the structures and choose the option that aligns with their investment goals. It is crucial to consider the investment structure, especially for investors who value flexibility and want to trade actively.

Cost and fees

Another significant difference between ETFs and mutual funds is their cost and fees. ETFs generally have lower management fees than mutual funds as they are passively managed, meaning they track an index’s performance rather than actively selecting and managing assets. This results in lower operating costs for ETFs passed on to investors.

In contrast, the active management of mutual funds incurs higher fees, including management and administrative fees, which can significantly impact investors’ returns. Also, mutual funds may charge sales or loads when buying or redeeming shares, reducing the investor’s overall returns.

However, it is crucial to consider that ETFs and mutual funds have different tax implications for investors. ETFs are more tax-efficient as they typically have lower portfolio turnover than actively managed mutual funds, resulting in fewer capital gains distributions. In contrast, mutual funds’ higher portfolio turnover may lead to more taxable events for investors.

Trading flexibility and liquidity

As ETFs are traded on a stock exchange, they offer greater trading flexibility and liquidity than mutual funds. Investors can buy or sell ETFs anytime during market hours, allowing them to react to market conditions quickly. In contrast, mutual funds’ limited trading window may make it challenging for investors to adjust their portfolios in response to market changes.

ETFs also offer intraday trading, meaning investors can buy or sell shares multiple times daily. It is particularly beneficial for short-term traders looking to capitalise on market movements. Mutual funds do not offer this option, and investors must buy or sell shares only once a day.

However, it is crucial to note that ETFs’ trading flexibility can also expose investors to increased market volatility. It may result in buying or selling at an unfavourable price due to sudden market fluctuations.


ETFs are known for their transparency as they publicly disclose their holdings and provide daily updates on their portfolio’s composition. It lets investors know precisely what securities they are invested in and how much each security holds in the fund’s portfolio.

In contrast, mutual funds have lower transparency as they only disclose their holdings quarterly or semi-annually, which may make it challenging for investors to know what securities their mutual fund is invested in, making it difficult to evaluate the risk exposure of their portfolio.

Investors should also consider that ETFs’ transparency can increase portfolio turnover, which may lead to higher trading costs and taxes for investors. It is essential to assess the impact of these potential expenses before making an investment decision.

Risk and return

ETFs and mutual funds also have different risk and return profiles. As ETFs track an index’s performance, they are considered less risky than actively managed mutual funds. However, ETFs also have a lower potential for higher returns than mutual funds managed by skilled fund managers.

On the other hand, the active management of mutual funds may expose investors to higher risk as fund managers try to beat the market, resulting in significant losses if their investment strategies fail.

When choosing between these two investment options, investors should carefully assess their financial goals and risk appetite. ETFs may suit long-term, passive investors seeking broad market exposure with lower fees. In contrast, mutual funds may be suitable for investors seeking higher potential returns but are willing to take on more risk.

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