Investments at a glance

Knowing what investments are available and how they work is the first step to being MoneyFit.

The table below includes the most popular types of investments. Many use investment funds where your money is pooled with other investors and spread across a variety of different investments. This 'diversification' helps to spread risk.

Investment products

You can invest directly in investments, like shares, but a more popular way to invest in them is indirectly through an investment fund. There are many different ways to access investment funds, for example through products such as an ISA or your workplace pension.

The table below briefly describes the most popular ways to invest your money.  Also, refer to the note below the table on how the level of fees charged may impact any potential return you receive.

Direct investments    How it works 
Shares offer you a way of owning a direct stake in a company - also known as equities Their value rises and falls in line with a number of factors which may include the company’s performance or outlook, investor sentiment and general market conditions. 
Investment funds (indirect)   How it works 
Unit trusts and open-ended investment companies (OEICs) Funds managed by a professional investment manager. There are lots of different strategies and risk levels to choose from and they can invest in one or more different asset classes.
Investment trusts Investment trusts are companies quoted on the stock exchange whose business is managing an investment fund, investing in shares and/or other types of investment. You invest in the fund by buying and selling shares in the investment trust either directly or through the products listed in the next table. Once again, there are lots of different strategies and risk levels to choose from.
Insurance company funds

Investment funds run by life insurance companies. When you invest through an insurance or pension product (see table below), you often choose how your money is invested. The choice may be from the insurance company’s own funds or investment funds, such as unit trusts, run by other managers. 

Tracker funds
Some investment funds adopt a ‘tracker’ strategy. The value of the fund increases or decreases in line with a stock-market index (a measure of how well the stock market is doing). Trackers funds often have lower charges than other types of fund.
REITs These are a special type of investment trust that invests in property. Similar OEICs are called property authorised investment funds (PAIFs).
Investment products (indirect)  How it works 
Stocks and Shares ISAs A tax-free way of investing in shares or investment funds, up to an annual limit. Many unit trusts and OEICs come pre-packaged as ISAs. Alternatively, you can choose for yourself which investments and funds to put in your ISA. 
Workplace pension A way of investing for the future, with a contribution from your employer and tax relief from the government. Your money is invested in pooled funds.
Personal pension A way of investing for the future, with tax relief from the government. You can use it instead of or as well as a workplace pension. Your money is invested in pooled funds. For more information see Personal pensions.
Investment bonds A life insurance contract that is also an investment vehicle. You invest for a set term or until you die.
Endowment policies A life insurance policy that is also an investment vehicle. It aims to give you a lump sum at the end of a fixed term. Often you choose which investment funds to have in your policy.
Whole of life policies A way of investing a regular amount or a lump sum as life insurance. It pays out on death, and is mainly used for estate planning. Often you choose which investment funds to have in your policy.

How much money will you get back?

There’s no guarantee of how your investment will perform.

In the case of company shares, it depends on the company’s performance and the economic outlook.

With funds, the chance of losing your money or making a big profit depends on the mix of different investments in the fund.

A way to spread your risks is to choose a range of different ‘asset classes’ for example, choosing a fund that invests in a mix of cash, shares, bonds and property, or investing in several funds each investing in a different one of these asset classes. See Spread your risk for more information.

A note on fees

Fees and charges can reduce your investment earnings. When you invest directly, you usually have to pay dealing charges. Fees vary by fund, product and provider and won’t always be easy to spot.

Changes to the Key Investor Information Document (KIID) saw the Ongoing Charges Figure (OCF) replace the Total Expense Ratio (TER). The aim was to allow investors to directly compare costs.

In general the OCF is the same as the TER, but makes it clearer to investors that it covers charges that are applied on an ongoing basis and not just the total costs.

Next steps

Once you know which type of investment, fund or product might suit you, you're ready to think about investing - see How to buy.

Last reviewed: 29/01/2018

This content has been provided by the Money Advice Service