Welcome to the fifth in a series of six guides, written and produced in partnership with Dozens. These guides set out everything you should consider as you set up your savings and make investments for the future – and, most importantly, how to take action today.
In case you missed them, check out:
Part one: Investment wrappers
Part two: How much to invest
Part three: Saving, investing, or trading?
Part four: Rebalancing your portfolio
Part six: Pensions and retirement
1. DIYsaster 🤕
1:40 min read
If you’ve been following along with the other installments in this series, you’ll be tantalizingly close to mastering your financial future. You’ve saved some cash, decided what you’re going to do with it, and know all about the importance of checking in on your investments over time.
In other words, you’ve got all the knowledge necessary to start growing your money. And now all you need to do is put that knowledge into action. It’s time to choose an investment provider 🕵️♂️
What are providers?
You might have decided that you want to invest in technology stocks. But unfortunately you can’t just call up Elon Musk and ask for some shares in Tesla. Nor can you buy a bond directly from Warren Buffett. For ordinary investors (also known as “retail” investors), all financial buying and selling has to be done through an intermediary.
Just as most people buy a house through an estate agent or realtor, all financial assets need some sort of broker: a platform that pairs up buyers and sellers 🤝
But choosing one of these providers isn’t easy. There are tons of different options out there, ranging from ultra-minimalist tools that you can set and forget for months at a time to complex software that lets you trade arcane (and risky) financial products. Researching them all can get pretty overwhelming pretty quickly.
So how do I decide?
Picking a provider is a bit like dating: you want to think about what you’re really looking for, take things slowly, and get advice from people who care about you (heyo!). With any luck, you’ll end up with a partner that you can stick with forever. But it’s hard to break into the scene after a dry spell, and that’s where this guide comes in. We’ll arm you with the awareness you need to swipe right with confidence – and we’ll begin by asking you to dream up your perfect match 😍
2. Ideal Home Show 🛋
2:29 min read
Remember those hours you used to spend daydreaming about Miss or Mister Right? It’s slightly less exhilarating, but imagining what your ideal financial platform would look like is a pretty good way to start your search. Thinking hard about what exactly you’re searching for helps narrow things down: there are hundreds of platforms out there, but there might only be one that’s right for you… 🤞
With that in mind, here are some things to consider:
What do you want to invest in?
As you’ll know from previous installments of this guide, the list of things you can do with your money is endless. You might want to put your cash into a savings account – in which case you’ll want to find a platform that offers those. Or you might want to trade stocks, bonds, and investment funds – in which case a broker is more up your street.
Even if you’re dead set on stocks, you’ve got more decisions to make: do you want to have access to overseas markets? Do you want to trade derivative investments like options and futures contracts? If so, you’ll need to find a platform that provides those things – not all do. Indeed, some investments may require you to go to a specialist provider – buying gold bullion, for example.
How confident are you?
If you’re new to the investing world, you probably don’t want to be spending all your time picking individual stocks and funds – it’s easy to make mistakes this way and end up losing money rather than growing it. Instead, you might prefer a platform that takes your money and decides what to do with it on your behalf. But you’ll have to pay fees to your money managers in return. Robo-advisors can be a helpful in-between: you choose your risk tolerance and the software automatically invests your cash, charging lower fees than human-managed portfolios 🤖
What kind of experience do you want?
Providers vary vastly in the user experience they provide. Some have slick mobile apps, while others are complicated desktop programs with more charts than you can shake a stick at. Investment buying and selling may be instant or delayed until the end of the day. Customer service can also differ: some providers are online-only, while others let you pick up the phone and chat to an expert. That human touch can be really helpful when you’re still getting to grips with things.
Do you want a tax break?
In the first part of this series we looked at tax wrappers like the UK’s ISAs – but not all providers offer compatibility with these. If you do want to be tax efficient (and you probably should), then it might be worth compromising on some of the other points to make sure your cash is protected from the taxman ⛔
And that leads us on to another important point: what sort of damage will a provider do to your pocket?
3. Pricing Up 😏
2:41 min read
So you know what sort of activity you want to do together – but on every date there comes a time to pay the bill. Providers have to make money somehow, and they generally charge a variety of fees. Here are the most common ones to look out for:
Account Opening Fees
These are particularly painful, because they mean you can’t try a platform out without handing over some cash. For first-time investors, it’s probably worth avoiding platforms with these fees until you have a clearer idea of your needs ☝️
Okay, so it’s not a fee – but some providers will only deal with you if you agree to deposit a certain amount. If you only want to invest a small pot to begin with, you might have to look elsewhere.
Some platforms charge a flat fee for using their service – £10 a month, for example. That might be waived if your account is above a certain size, or if you’re trading a certain amount per month, so think about how heavily you’re going to be using the account before you sign up. A one-trick pony for a bit of cryptocurrency trading might not be worth it if you’re also maintaining a stock trading account elsewhere.
If the platform is investing money on your behalf (e.g. robo-advisors), it might also charge you a “management fee”: a percentage of the amount of money you hold with them. And bear in mind that if you’re investing in funds, there’ll often be an additional recurring fee on top of the platform’s fee 🙄
If you want to regularly buy and sell assets, you’ll normally be charged a commission on each trade you make – sometimes that’s a percentage, at other times it’s a flat fee. Different products might attract different commissions (for example, buying foreign stocks might cost more), so it’s worth investigating this fully. If you’re trading frequently, these fees can really add up.
If all goes well you’ll make money with your provider, and at some point, you’ll want to take it out and spend it. But some platforms charge chunky withdrawal fees, which can sting if you’re not expecting them. Price all of these fees into your long-term investment decisions, because you may well have to pay them!
Some brokers have ultra-low fees, and some make much of their lack of commission. But there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Zero-commission pricing may come at the cost of not being able to trade instantly, with orders instead executed in bulk at the end of each day. If the market moves before the trade gets made, you could find yourself buying or selling at an unexpected – and unwelcome – price ⏲
You should also investigate whether the provider is prepared to waive some of its fees in the event of particularly poor performance. That could help cushion the blow in tougher times.
No one likes fees, but sometimes it can be worth paying more up front for better customer service, a better trading experience – and maybe even better returns. Not to mention peace of mind…
4. Stranger Danger 🚨
2:35 min read
Putting your money with a provider involves an awful lot of trust – if something goes wrong, the consequences could be way worse than if your Facebook account crashes. That’s why it’s really important to be sure you’re dealing with a reputable and safe company. Here are some things worth thinking about from the outset:
Is it fully regulated?
Check that the provider is registered with the Financial Conduct Authority (in the UK) or the equivalent national or (in the US) state financial regulator. And make sure that it’s registered for the services it’s providing. A firm could be authorized to promote investments, but if it’s actually holding your cash then it needs to be regulated for that, too. If you’re keeping money with a provider, you’ll also want it to be covered by the UK’s Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) or your local equivalent, which guarantees your savings are safe up to a point 🙌
Are its systems secure?
Now that most transactions are done over the internet, we’re all at risk of hackers and other nefarious types trying to steal our money. You should check that the provider you choose has strong online security and behaves responsibly with your data (if they’re sending out your password in emails and neglecting to ask security questions to reset your account, that’s a red flag). If anything rubs you up the wrong way, go with your gut.
Is it competent?
Finance is a high-stakes game: if a stock you own is tanking, for instance, you might want to sell it immediately to avoid racking up bigger losses. But if there are bona fide stories circulating about a broker locking people out of accounts or going offline in such circumstances, you might be taking a risk. If something major does go wrong, you’re also going to want to make sure that there’s someone who can help you – maybe even an actual human that you can speak to over the phone. Remember them? ☎️
What happens if the provider fails?
Hopefully this won’t happen, but unless it’s part of a “systemically important” bank, there’s always a chance that a provider might go bankrupt. If that does occur, you could be in a tight spot: most shares or bonds aren’t actually held in your name, instead being kept in your provider’s.
Your funds should be ring-fenced, which means your provider won’t drag your cash down with it. But even if your funds do get drained, investor protection schemes like the FSCS pay out up to £85,000 to make up for your lost assets.
How can I avoid getting burned?
Look for some kind of plan being in place – ideally the provider will have a contingency fund to deal with a worst-case scenario. And it’s worth keeping an up-to-date record of your portfolio, so that shares can be accurately re-assigned to you in such an event.
Now you know what to look for, it’s time to actually go out there and make your match 💗
5. The Dating Market ❤️
1:45 min read
You know what you’re after – but how can you go about finding it? Comparison services like Money Saving Expert and Finimize (😉) have lists of providers in various fields – a quick look through these will let you find out who the biggest players on the market are. You should then check out each provider in more detail, looking beyond the marketing claims on their websites and assessing whether the nitty-gritty details of fees and functionality matches up with your requirements.
If you find one that looks particularly promising and it’s free to sign up, there’s probably no harm in doing so. Creating an account with a provider will let you use their app and product like you would if you actually had cash with them – so you’ll get a much better idea of whether their product is something you want to use.
If you’re planning on stock trading, many brokers offer the option of “paper trading” – investing with fake money. That lets you use the platform as if it were real, so you can even see if you like the way you execute orders and visualize your returns 🤓
Are there any other things I should look at?
User reviews and word of mouth are great ways of figuring out what’s popular – if a provider has devoted fans, there’s probably a reason for that. Talk to any finance-minded friends to see if they’ve got a recommendation, and check out Finimize’s reviews to see what your fellow Finimizers have to say.
And remember that the decision you eventually make doesn’t have to be one you stick with forever. If a year from now you have regrets, you can always bid adieu to your current provider and pick a new one. It may be a bit of a hassle to switch accounts, but it’s doable – so even if you are happy with your current provider, it’s worth keeping an eye on the market to see if anything better (or cheaper) comes along. Unlike dating, you won’t be hurting anyone’s feelings… 😇
6. All Set? 👌
1:15 min read
In part one of this guide to figuring out your future finances, we looked at how to protect the value of your money from inflation in a tax-efficient yet accessible way. Boring but important.
In part two, we explored what to tick off before investing, how to work out how much you’ve got, and whether it’s better to invest all at once or over time.
In part three, we laid out the differences between saving, investing, and trading, and how you can use all three when putting your money to work.
In part four, we walked you through how to build – and maintain – a diverse portfolio, and what success might look like.
And in this installment, we’ve talked about putting all this into practice. You now know what to look for in order to choose a provider that’s right for you, from fees to guarantees.
Good luck! Later this summer, in the final part of our guide, we’ll be looking into the distant future: considering how you can use your provider to set yourself up for a stress-free retirement. Don’t get too much older before then… 👵
This guide was produced in partnership with Dozens.
Dozens is not a bank. They are authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority as an e-money institution (FRN 900894) and also as an investment firm (FRN 814281).
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