Skip to main content

The Great-West Life Assurance Company, London Life Insurance Company and The Canada Life Assurance Company have become one company – The Canada Life Assurance Company. Discover the new Canada Life

The Great-West Life Assurance Company, London Life Insurance Company and The Canada Life Assurance Company have become one company – The Canada Life Assurance Company. Discover the new Canada Life

Your web browser is out-of-date. For the best experience, please update to a modern browser like Chrome, Edge, Safari or Mozilla Firefox.

Freedom 55 Financial is a division of The Canada Life Assurance Company and the information you requested can be found here.

ETFs vs. Mutual funds: Which one is right for you?

Key takeaways

  • Both ETFs and mutual funds are popular investment choices.
  • ETF investments usually have lower fees than mutual funds, however mutual fund investors get professional fund management services for their fees.
  • Whether you decide to invest in ETFs or mutual funds may depend on the type of investor you are.

You may have heard about exchange-traded funds (ETFs) as an alternative to investing in mutual funds.

According to the IFIC 2022 Investment Funds ReportOpens a new website in a new window, as of the end of 2022, Canadian mutual fund assets under administration totalled $1,809 billion and ETF assets totalled $314 billion.

Over the decade ending December 2022, mutual fund assets more than doubled, adding $959 billion and ETF assets grew by more than 5.5 times, adding $257 billion.

But how do you decide which best fits your investment needs? Let’s compare them.

What are mutual funds and ETFs?

Both are pools of investments managed by professional fund managers. They allow you to invest in a wide variety of stocks and bonds so you can diversify your investments.

Mutual funds and ETFs can be used as part of a buy-and-hold investment strategy (investing over a longer term), while ETFs can also be used for almost any investment strategy, including day trading. ETFs trade in real time (like stocks do), while mutual funds can only be bought and sold at the end of the day and switching investments takes 2 days in addition to the day a fund is bought or sold.

With both mutual funds and ETFs, you can invest in a registered retirement savings plan (RRSP), registered retirement income fund (RRIF), tax-free savings account (TFSA) or registered education savings plan (RESP). Both can also be held in non-registered accounts. 

With both, there are 2 ways to make money. One is from capital gains when you sell the fund for more than you paid for it. The second is with distributions.

Depending on the type of fund you buy, you may get distributions of dividends, interest, capital gains or other income the fund earns on its investments. With a mutual fund, you may choose to receive distributions in cash or have them reinvested in the fund for you. Unless you request the distributions to be paid in cash, the mutual fund will often reinvest the distributions for you.

Unlike many mutual funds, ETFs don’t reinvest your cash distributions in more units or shares. Instead, the cash is held in your account until you say how you want it invested. You may have to pay a sales commission on whatever investment you buy. Some investment firms offer a program to automatically buy more ETF units for you. You likely won’t pay a sales commission on these automatic purchases.

How do the costs of mutual funds and ETFs compare?

If you’re a cost-sensitive investor, you may be interested in the lower annual fees and no investment minimums offered by ETFs. Just remember that if you wish to invest small amounts of money regularly (such as with dollar-cost averaging strategy or pre- authorized contributions), frequent trading commissions can reduce your returns, increasing the cost of your ETF investment.

Compared to ETFs, mutual funds typically come with minimum investment and higher expenses, such as management and operational fees. However, it’s important to remember that with those higher fees, investors get the services of a manager who is much more involved in the funds’ investment selection and management.

How to decide whether to invest in an ETF vs a mutual fund

If you can’t decide between mutual funds and ETFs based on their investment cost, consider what kind of investor you are.

Investing in ETFs

If you enjoy the responsibility of managing your investments, then ETFs may be more your style.

Like stocks, ETFs trade all day, meaning the price of an ETF can change minute by minute. Mutual funds are instead priced once daily, at the end of a trading day. This gives you no option other than to buy at the closing price, which is known as the net asset value.

The day trading flexibility of ETFs works for some investors because they can trade anytime the market is open. If you wish to be involved in your trades and have control over buying and selling, maybe you’re cut out to invest in ETFs.

ETFs also allow you to invest with a smaller minimum investment amount than most mutual funds.

Investing in mutual funds

If you’re the kind of investor who wants less control and a simpler, more hands-off experience, combined with the advice of an advisor, maybe it’s mutual funds you’re after.

They suit people wanting their portfolio to be professionally managed. You can also easily set up automatic investments in fixed amounts towards your mutual funds – so you don’t have to remember to contribute each month.

As well, mutual funds offer other series and structures that aren’t available in ETFs. These can provide you with regular cashflow or invest your money more tax efficiently.

What's next?

Now that you know more about ETFs and mutual funds, you may choose to meet with an advisor, or if your workplace benefits are with Canada Life, contact a health and wealth consultant to:

  • Discuss how ETFs and mutual funds may fit into your investment plan.
  • Review your investment goals and risk tolerance.

The information provided is based on current laws, regulations and other rules applicable to Canadian residents. It is accurate to the best of our knowledge as of the date of publication. Rules and their interpretation may change, affecting the accuracy of the information. The information provided is general in nature and should not be relied upon as a substitute for advice in any specific situation. For specific situations, advice should be obtained from the appropriate legal, accounting, tax or other professional advisors. 

Related articles