Unit Trusts – The Benefits and The Drawbacks

In the previous article we delved into what a unit trust is and how its fee structures work. Let us now take a closer look at the advantages and disadvantages of a unit trust as an investment to get a better understanding of when it is an appropriate investment option.

Benefits of a Unit Trust

An expert looking after your investment

In a unit trust, a professional fund manager is responsible for managing and investing the pooled pot of money on behalf of the investors. This fund manager is a skilled investor who understands the market, spends time and energy analysing shares as well as the industries and economy at large and they are glued to their trading screen to take advantage of market movements as and when they arise. The average investor may not have the time or knowledge to truly capitalise on movements in the stock market in the same way professional fund managers can and, therefore, it is beneficial to leave this duty in the hands of a capable investor.

A diversified investment

In absolute Rand terms, some shares may be very expensive. One Naspers share, for example, can cost about R2,500. Investing in a unit trust allows you to own part of a share which can help diversify your investment and thus bring down concentration risk. Concentration risk is when you are invested in only a few shares or industries and thus have all your eggs in one basket. If an adverse event happens to one or more of these shares or industries, your total investment portfolio will be affected more severely as opposed to owning more shares or being invested in a wider range of industries. If you buy one unit in a unit trust that costs you R100, and that particular unit trust has 5% of its money invested in Naspers, you will indirectly own only R5 (R100 x 5%) in Naspers. You can thus own part of a share, and use your savings to invest in a more diverse range of shares.

Transparent

Unit trusts in South Africa are well regulated and have strict requirements to follow with regard to disclosing information. These requirements ensure that an investor has all the appropriate information it needs in a standardised format that allows for effortless comparisons before making a decision on whether or not to invest in the particular unit trust.

Assets are held separately by a trustee

An independent trustee acts as the custodian of the unit trust’s assets, and therefore they can provide a safety net for investors. In the event that a fund management company ceases operations, you need not worry about your investment. The trustee will continue to control the assets and ensure they are accounted for.

Drawbacks of a Unit Trust

Liquidity constraints

Unit trusts usually invest in equity shares on stock exchanges. These stocks are inherently known for being higher risk investments due to the fact that they are very sensitive to any sort of news that can potentially affect the companies that the shares are held in. Due to these fluctuations in the share price in the short term, it is often advised that investment in a unit trust must be held for a period of at least three years to take advantage of the reward for investing in higher risk investments. That being said, unit trusts do not have a minimum investment period, and if needs be, units can be sold at any time. Daily traded funds can usually liquidate an investment within 7 working days.

Fees

As explained above, this investment is managed by a professional investment manager and investors pay these managers for their expertise. Although the idea is that these managers should create returns in excess of the market’s return, it is not always the case and returns minus management fees may result in lower returns than that of the market. Other fees are also applicable when investing in a unit trust, such as auditing fees, administration fees, etc.

Not allowed to borrow

A very popular way to increase investment return is by using what is known as leveraging. This is a technique that allows investors to borrow money and invest this borrowed money in an investment that generates higher return than the interest that is paid on the loan. Although this strategy can be risky, it can increase profits and returns. Unit trusts aren’t allowed to make use of this technique and some investors argue the returns of unit trusts are limited for this reason.

Unit trusts are a very good investment, but it will not suit every investor. Make sure that you understand your own circumstances and needs, as well as the risks and costs involved before investing in a unit trust.