20 min Read
25 Jan 2018

Written by Damien

Damien is one of the most widely quoted money and investment experts in the national press and has made numerous radio & TV appearances. He created MoneytotheMasses.com while working in the City when he became disillusioned with the way the public were left to fend for themselves because they could not afford financial advice.

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AJ Bell review – is it the best value investment platform in 2018?

aj bell reviewThis is an independent AJ Bell review in which I look at its products and services. AJ Bell is an investment platform that allows investors to invest in unit trusts, shares, investment trusts and ETFs via their SIPP and ISA products, as well as their general trading account. AJ Bell also produces a range of investment guides, an investment magazine as well as a range of pre-made investment portfolios. You can use the links below to jump to key points in this AJ Bell review, however, I suggest that you read it from beginning to end as I highlight the positives and negatives of this fund investment platform. At the end of the article I also look at a couple of alternatives to AJ Bell.

Who is AJ Bell?

AJ Bell was founded in 1995 and is one of the UK's leading online investment platforms with £39 billion assets under management. AJ Bell provides investment services to over 160,000 customers and has 700 UK employees. By comparison the UK's largest online investment platform, Hargreaves Lansdown, has 1 million customers and around £80 billion assets under management.

AJ Bell's online investment service was launched in 2000 under the name AJ Bell Youinvest and was the first online SIPP provider in the UK. AJ Bell even administered TD Direct's self-invested personal pension (SIPP) until it was taken over by Interactive Investor in 2017. Despite this AJ Bell remains a major investment platform in the UK and is a member of the London stock exchange with a background in actuarial consultancy, SIPPs and stockbroking.

What services and products are offered by AJ Bell Youinvest?

As you would expect from a major investment platform AJ Bell offers a range of investment products which are listed below:

A J Bell Youinvest ISA offers an online Stocks & Shares ISA with low costs and a range of investment options including shares, unit trusts, investment trusts and ETFs. Regular investments can be made from as little as £25 per month, which is the same as Hargreaves Lansdown. Transfers can be made from an existing Stocks and Shares ISA with another provider. The AJ Bell Youinvest ISA won the 'Best ISA Provider' award at the City of London Wealth Management Awards in 2017.

AJ Youinvest Junior ISA offers an online tax efficient way for parents or guardians to invest for a child's future. The money is ring-fenced until the child reaches the age of 18 at which point they are granted access to the funds invested. The AJ Bell Youinvest Junior ISA won the 'Best Junior ISA Provider award 2017 at the City of London Wealth Management Awards

The AJ Bell Youinvest Lifetime ISA is available to applicants aged 18 to 39 saving for their first home or retirement. Contributions can be made up to £4,000 p.a. (2017/18) and up to the age of 50. A government bonus of 25% of investments will be paid and investments can be withdrawn at any time to buy a first home or from age 60 to fund retirement. Transfers can be made from other investments. AJ Bell Youinvest is one of only 5 investment Lifetime ISA providers. Others include Hargreaves Lansdown and Nutmeg.

A J Bell Youinvest SIPP was the first online SIPP available in the UK and investments can be made up to £40,000 per year and receive tax-relief, in line with current pension legislation. Regular investments can be made for as little as £25 per month. Transfers can be made from an existing SIPP with another provider. The AJ Bell SIPP has won numerous awards including the MoneyAge award for the 'SIPP Provider of the year 2017' as well as the Moneywise award for Best SIPP for Income Drawdown.

AJ Bell Youinvest Dealing Account provides an easy low cost way of investing online allowing investors to make their own investment choices. Unlike an ISA or SIPP account there is no limit to the amount that can be invested and money can be withdrawn at any time.

AJ Bell Platinum SIPP provides a bespoke SIPP service designed for co-directors and partners in a business. The AJ Platinum SIPP offers a wider range of investment choices than the AJ Bell Youinvest SIPP including the purchase of UK commercial land & property. Any commercial land or property can then be leased to the member's company or a third party.

AJ Bell Platinum SSAS (Small Self Administered Scheme) in addition to the wide range of investments available with an AJ Bell Platinum SIPP members of the SSAS can borrow money from a commercial lender and borrow or lend to a limited company on commercial terms for the purpose of its trade.

What can you invest in using AJ Bell Youinvest?

AJ Bell Youinvest offers a wide range of investment options including funds, shares, investment trusts and exchange traded funds (ETFs). In total there are over 2,000 funds from which you can choose to invest. AJ Bell Youinvest also simplifies the investment choice for investors who like to be guided in their investment choice by providing a range of passive funds and the AJ Bell Favourite Funds list, as described below.

AJ Bell Passive Funds

The AJ Bell Passive Funds are essentially cheap portfolios of low-cost funds managed by AJ Bell based on 5 risk levels. The annual charge is capped at 0.5% which is around half the cost of a typical active fund. The are five portfolios available which are

  • Cautious - aimed at producing long term growth by investing predominantly in lower risk assets such as cash and fixed income assets (bonds).
  • Moderately Cautious - similar to the Cautious fund but with a greater exposure to higher risk assets such as equities.
  • Balanced - aimed at producing long term growth with a balanced approach between lower risk assets such as cash and fixed income and higher risk assets such as equities.
  • Moderately Cautious - has a greater exposure to higher risk assets such as equities with less emphasis on cash and fixed income assets.
  • Adventurous  - has the highest exposure to high risk assets such as equities and a low exposure to cash and fixed income assets.

These portfolios are aimed at those people who want to 'buy and forget' and let someone else run their money. Think of it as a bit like AJ Bell's equivalent service to compete with the new wave of robo-advice services such as Nutmeg and Moneyfarm.

AJ Bell Favourite Funds

Alternatively, if you want to choose your investments yourself, but want some suggestions to consider, then AJ Bell Favourite Funds is a shortlist of 77 funds across a range of assets and sectors. It is essentially AJ Bell's equivalent of the Hargreaves Lansdown's Wealth 150+ list. Both lists are reportedly chosen based on a range of criteria including fund performance, the investment team, investment philosophy and cost. AJ Bell offers investors a useful filter tool which, once completed, will provide a selection of funds that fit the chosen criteria. The filter tool allows investors to choose whether they want to invest for growth or income, active funds or tracker funds and in which sectors they want invest. Once the filter tool has been completed a list of funds are presented showing charges, 3 year returns and the yield for each fund.

What are AJ Bell Youinvest charges?

AJ Bell Youinvest ISA

Annual platform charge

  • £0 - £250,000 - 0.25%
  • £250,000  to £1m - 0.10%
  • £1m to £2m - 0.05%
  • over £2m - no charge

Buying and selling investments

  • Funds - £1.50 per deal
  • Shares (including ETFs, investment trusts, gilts & bonds) - £9.95 per deal
  • Shares (10 or more deals in previous month) - £4.95 per deal
  • Regular online investment - £1.50
  • Cash transfer to another ISA manager - no charge
  • Transfer of underlying assets - £25 per holding

AJ Bell Youinvest Junior ISA

Same charges as shown for AJ Bell Youinvest ISA

AJ Bell Youinvest SIPP

In addition to the ISA charges the following charges apply

  • Tax free lump sum payment - £25
  • Regular income drawdown payment - £100
  • Annuity purchase - £100
  • Review of capped drawdown - £75
  • Transfer out in cash - £75
  • Transfer out to another UK pension scheme - £75 plus £25 per holding

AJ Bell Youinvest Lifetime ISA

0.25% management charge on all investments, all other charges are the same as shown for the AJ Bell Youinvest ISA.

AJ Bell Dealing Dealing Account

Same charges as shown for the AJ Bell Youinvest ISA

What investment tools and research do AJ Bell Youinvest offer?

Alongside the aforementioned Passive funds and the AJ Bell favourite funds below is a selection of the AJ Bell Youinvest research and tools available for investors

  • Latest market news
  • Shares magazine
  • Top buys and sells
  • Investment articles
  • Investment videos
  • Investment alerts
  • Award winning mobile app

AJ Bell Youinvest Stocks and Shares ISA review

The A J Bell Youinvest ISA charging structure, investment options and ease of use make it a popular choice among investors. From a pure cost perspective AJ Bell isn't the cheapest but perhaps offers among the best value across a range of portfolio sizes (from £15,000 to £200,000). If you read our analysis of the Compare the cheapest (and best) investment ISA platforms we include a cost heatmap analysis for the leading Stocks and Shares ISA providers in the UK. From that you can see that the AJ Bell Youinvest Stocks and Shares ISA is cost effective as your portfolio grows, reducing the need to switch ISA providers at a later date. While there is no charge should you wish to transfer your ISA to another provider as cash, there is a £25 exit charge per fund (just like Hargreaves Lansdown) should you want to remain invested while the transfer is processed.

Overall the AJ Bell Youinvest ISA platform fee is cheaper than many of its peers, including Hargreaves Lansdown, but it does charge a fee for fund switches (£1.50 per fund transaction) whereas many platforms offer free unit trust fund switches. However the cost analysis we carried out in the aforementioned article does take this into account and allows for 10 fund switches a year. Overall it isn't a surprise that the The AJ Bell Youinvest ISA won the 'Best ISA Provider award 2017 at the City of London Wealth Management Awards.

AJ Bell Youinvest SIPP review

AJ Bell really comes into its own with its A J Bell Youinvest SIPP product. Rated as the Best SIPP provider in a number of recent industry awards it allows you to invest in a wide range of shares, unit trusts, investment trusts and ETFs. In our analysis of the Best Value SIPP providers it is the best value for most people and especially when your portfolio hits £100,000 and you are investing in funds. If you want to hold both ISAs and a SIPP with the same platform in order to benefit from cost savings (and for ease of use) then AJ Bell again works out among the most effective for fund investors as shown in the third table of our article looking at the cheapest investment stocks and shares ISAs.

Customers can manage their SIPP either online or by using their smartphone app.

AJ Bell Youinvest customer reviews

Below is a selection of reviews posted online by AJ Bell customers:

'I would recommend and I continue to use them. Web interface is simple to navigate and fees are very reasonable. Administration again is efficient and no fuss. Sometimes hard to contact them by phone (but I rarely need to do so)' - Brendan

'Easy to use and fast friendly responses when I ask questions. I would definitely recommend A J Bell Youinvest (in fact I already have)' - Ian

'Very good service - generally I can do what I want on the web-site and when I can't, there are helpful people to get the job done. Relatively complicated things like pension transfers have gone flawlessly, Good value for money' - Robert

'AJ Bell produce a very useful Shares Magazine every week which is free to all members with £4,000 in their account. This magazine is full of great ideas & companies worth considering investing in. I have opened positions on a few companies listed on the Shares Magazine & they have performed really well' - Nazrul

'Efficient and cost effective. Very easy to use, wide range of options' - Phillip

Summary - AJ Bell Youinvest review - Should you use them?

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