Choosing Between ETFs and Index Funds: A Comprehensive Guide

Choosing Between ETFs and Index Funds: A Comprehensive Guide

“Don’t look for the needle in the haystack. Just buy the haystack!” – John Bogle

3 min read

Choosing Between ETFs and Index Funds: A Comprehensive Guide

“Don’t look for the needle in the haystack. Just buy the haystack!” – John Bogle

3 min read

Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs) and Index Funds are popular investment choices for those seeking to build a diversified portfolio while minimising costs. Both options offer exposure to a broad range of assets, but they have distinct characteristics that can influence your decision.

This guide will help you understand the key factors to consider when choosing between ETFs and Index Funds.

Your Investment Objective(s)

Be sure to clarify your investment objectives. Are you looking for long-term growth, income, or a combination of both? Your goals will influence which vehicle is more suitable.


ETFs are traded on exchanges like stocks, which means their prices fluctuate throughout the trading day. Index Funds, on the other hand, are typically priced once a day at the net asset value (NAV). Consider which pricing structure aligns better with your investment style

If you do not know, here is how the NAV is calculated:

NAV = (Total Fund Assets – Total Fund Liabilities) / Number of Outstanding Shares

  • Total Fund Assets: This includes all the investments and securities held by the fund. For a stock mutual fund, this would be the total value of the stocks it owns. For a bond fund, it would be the value of its bond holdings.

  • Total Fund Liabilities: These are the fund’s expenses, such as management fees and operating costs. These expenses are subtracted from the total assets to determine the fund’s net assets.

  • Number of Outstanding Shares: This represents the total number of shares held by investors in the fund.

Liquidity and Trading Flexibility

ETFs offer intraday (within the day) trading, allowing you to buy or sell shares at market prices during trading hours. This liquidity can be advantageous if you want to act quickly on market movements. Index Funds are transacted at the end of the trading day, which may be less flexible.


Expense ratios can significantly impact your returns. Both ETFs and Index Funds are known for their low expense ratios, but it’s essential to compare fees for your specific investments. ETFs may have a slight edge in terms of cost, but the difference can vary.

Look out for the Total Expense Ratio (TER) of what you are buying. In brief, the TER represents the total cost of owning and managing an investment fund expressed as a percentage of the fund’s total assets. In other words, it calculates the annual expenses an investor can expect to pay for investing in a particular fund.

For example, the TER of an S&P 500 Index Fund may be in the range of 0.03% to 0.10% (and can be lower or higher), whilst a FTSE Index Fund may range from 0.05% to 0.50% (and again, can be lower or higher).


Consider the tax implications of your choice. ETFs are known for their tax efficiency because of the unique “in-kind” creation and redemption process. Index Funds can also be tax-efficient but may have some capital gains distributions.


ETFs are traded on stock exchanges, making them easily accessible through brokerage accounts. Index Funds are usually available through mutual fund companies or retirement accounts. Evaluate the accessibility based on your preferred investment platform.

Investment Minimums

Some ETFs have no minimum investment requirements, while Index Funds may have minimum initial investment thresholds. Assess your available capital to ensure you meet any minimums.

Holdings and Tracking Error

Examine the underlying holdings of the ETF or Index Fund. Look for those that closely track their respective benchmarks, as tracking error can impact performance.

Dividends and Distributions

Understand how dividends and distributions are handled. ETFs often pay dividends quarterly, while Index Funds may pay them annually or semi-annually. Assess whether the distribution schedule aligns with your income needs.

Asset Class and Strategy

Ensure that the chosen fund aligns with your desired asset class and investment strategy. Some ETFs and Index Funds focus on specific sectors, regions, or strategies like dividend investing or ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance).

Historical Performance

While past performance is not indicative of future results, reviewing historical returns and volatility can provide insights into how the fund has performed under different market conditions.

Exit Strategy

Consider how easily you can exit your investment if needed. ETFs, with their intraday (within the day) trading, offer more flexibility in this regard.

The Decision is Yours

Ultimately, the choice between ETFs and Index Funds depends on your individual financial goals, preferences, and the specific investment options available. It is important to carefully evaluate each factor above to make an informed decision.

Remember that the ideal choice may also involve a combination of both ETFs and Index Funds to create a well-diversified and cost-effective investment portfolio that aligns with your long-term objectives.

If you are ever uncertain in your decisions, do not hesitate to contactez-nous dès aujourd'hui to book your initial, no-cost and no-obligation meeting. Or, send us an e-mail to or call us direct at +41 21 801 36 84 and we shall be pleased to assist you.