Becoming a successful investor means getting your head around some commonly used investment terms. We’re here to help with this A-Z glossary.  

An asset class is a group of investments with similar characteristics such as their level of risk. The four main asset types are cash, fixed interest, property and shares.  

Bonds are the most common type of fixed interest investment. Bonds are issued by governments or companies to raise money. Essentially, you loan your money to the bond issuer in return for a promise to pay interest and the principal back at an agreed time. They’re classed as a defensive asset and are considered less risky than growth assets like shares and property. However, the value of a bond can still go up or down, meaning they still carry a level of risk.

 

While it’s possible to buy bonds as an individual, minimum investment amounts are too high for most people. Most individuals therefore invest in bonds via managed investment funds (either within their super fund or separately) or exchange traded funds (ETFs). 

Cash is the most stable and least risky of the four main asset types (cash, fixed interest, property and shares), but generally provides the lowest returns. 

 

A cash investment generates a return in the form of interest payments – for example as you’d receive from a bank savings account. However, investing in cash via a managed fund rather than on your own also gives access to more sophisticated kinds of cash investment, such as money market funds and certificates of deposit. 

Defensive assets are relatively low risk and less unpredictable compared with growth assets like shares or property. Cash and fixed interest are examples of defensive assets.  

 

The mix of defensive and growth assets in an investor’s portfolio (how diversified it is) will depend on their investment timeframe and risk tolerance. A younger investor comfortable with a higher level of risk might hold mostly (or all) growth assets, while an investor approaching retirement might hold mainly defensive assets.  

Distributions are periodic payments made by a managed fund or similar investment product to investors as a way of distributing the profits made by the fund’s underlying assets, such as shares. Investors can usually choose to take their distributions as cash payments, or use them to automatically buy more units in the fund to help their investment grow faster. Either way, distributions are assessed as taxable income and must be included in your tax return.  

Diversifying your investments is a way of reducing your overall risk while accessing different types of assets and potential rates of investment return. This means that while some of the investments in your portfolio might perform poorly across a given timeframe others might perform well, smoothing out big swings in overall performance. 

 

The main way to diversify is to spread your total investment amount across different asset types in varying proportions. This is called ‘asset allocation’ and is an important investment decision you’ll need to make – perhaps with the help of a financial adviser. Many factors will influence what a suitable asset allocation is for your portfolio, including your investment timeframe and how comfortable you are with investment risk (also known as your ‘risk appetite’). 

A dividend is a regular payment made by a listed company to its shareholders as a way of letting them share in the company’s profits or earnings. How much each shareholder receives depends on how many shares they hold and the total profit pool the company decides to pay out. 

 

If a dividend is ‘franked’, it means the company has already paid tax on those profits. This in turn affects how much tax each shareholder might pay for the dividend income they’ve received. 

Countries refer to their own investment markets as their domestic market. For example, Australia’s domestic sharemarket means all the companies on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX), while an American investment manager would refer to the US stock market as their domestic market. 

This term refers to countries undergoing economic or political reform and with fast growing economies offering new opportunities for investment. Brazil, India, China and Mexico are examples of emerging markets.    

ESG factors may influence the attractiveness of an investment beyond the purely financial. Investment funds with high ESG criteria tend to invest to high ethical standards, so for example might avoid investing in industries and companies that: 

  • harm the environment by pollution or high non-renewable energy use (Environmental) 

  • employ child labour or suppress human rights (Social) 

  • are not run fairly and transparently (Governance). 

ESG criteria are increasingly important to today’s investors, and many investment managers now avoid investments that perform poorly on these criteria or offer specific ESG-themed investment funds, such as CFS’s Thrive+ Sustainable Growth investment option.   

Equities is another way of referring to shares. However, the two terms aren’t identical – equity means the total ownership stake in a company (after payment of any debt) while a share or stock means a single unit of ownership.  

ETFs are similar to managed funds in that they’re available across all the main asset types as well as in more niche investment markets such as commodities or the technology industry.  

 

As with managed funds, ETFs pool multiple investors’ money into a single entity. The key difference with ETFs is that those pooled funds form a basket of securities that can be bought and sold on a stock exchange. The ETF’s value fluctuates in the same way as other shares, as opposed to a managed fund where fluctuations in value are reflected in changing unit prices.  

You will incur fees with almost all types of investment. These are the main types of fees you may be required to pay as a managed fund investor or super fund member: 

  • An establishment fee (also called an ‘entry fee’) may be payable when you first invest in a managed fund. 

  • Contribution fees may be payable every time you put more money in. 

  • Management fees are charged by the fund for administration and to cover the fee charged by the investment manager for their expertise in choosing investments and deciding when to buy and sell the underlying assets to maximise the fund’s overall performance.  

  • An advice fee may be payable to your financial adviser for their professional services. You’ll only pay this fee if you’ve agreed it with your adviser.  

  • Transaction costs are incurred when you make additional investments into a managed fund or a withdrawal, or if you make an investment switch within your super account. These costs usually take the form of ‘buy/sell spreads’, which represent the estimated transaction costs incurred when buying or selling the underlying assets that make up the overall fund.  

  • Administration fee is a fee levied by super funds for the general cost of running the fund and managing your super account. For example, this can cover expenses like the super fund’s call centre service and the cost of issuing annual statements.  

  • Indirect costs are also levied by super funds and include expenses paid out of the fund’s assets, along with brokerage fees and other associated costs. They may also include the fund’s ongoing operating costs, and charges and expenses such as registry, audit, regulatory costs and for receiving taxation advice. 

Fixed interest is one of the four main asset types along with shares, property and cash. Fixed interest investments offer a set rate of interest for a specified time period, with the initial amount (the ‘principal’) repaid at the end of that time, when the investment ‘matures’.  

 

The fixed interest asset class covers a range of investments including bonds and term deposits. Fixed interest is classed along with cash as a defensive asset, but fixed interest investments still carry a level of risk and their values can fall as well as rise, although generally with less extreme highs and lows than share and property markets.  

Gearing involves borrowing money to increase the amount of funds available for investment and thus generate bigger returns when asset values increase. The flip side is that if the investment’s value falls, the loan amount and interest commitments must still be repaid. Gearing therefore has the potential to magnify both investment gains and losses. 

 

Geared investments are usually made with growth assets like shares and property. With a geared managed fund, the borrowing and loan servicing all takes place within the fund – investment returns (or losses) are reflected in the unit price, as with all managed funds. Investing in a geared managed fund doesn’t therefore put an investor at risk of being required to meet a margin call, as could happen when investments are geared via a margin loan

Growth assets are investments that produce an income and have the potential to grow in value over time. Shares and property are growth assets in that they’re likely to produce higher returns over the long term than defensive assets like cash or fixed interest, although with the risk of more fluctuation in the short term.  

 

The mix of growth and defensive assets in an investor’s portfolio will depend on their investment timeframe and risk tolerance. A younger investor comfortable with a higher level of risk might hold mostly (or all) growth assets, whereas an investor approaching retirement might hold mainly defensive assets.  

Hedging is a complex strategy investment managers sometimes use to reduce risk in a portfolio, almost like a form of insurance. Investors will buy assets they think will perform well based on how they expect markets will move in the future. They can then ‘hedge’ those investments by also purchasing assets that might perform well if their original investments do poorly - effectively betting against their own portfolio. 

 

Investment funds are sometimes described as ‘hedged’ or ‘unhedged’, particularly international share funds where hedging can be used to offset the risk of currency movements eroding investment returns.  

In the financial world an index is a hypothetical portfolio of shares or other securities that reflects a segment of a financial market, such as the 100 biggest companies or the companies in a specific industry such as mining. The main sharemarket indexes are usually based on ‘market capitalisation’, in which a company’s size is calculated by multiplying its share price by the number of shares it has issued.  

Index funds are types of managed funds where the investment manager builds a portfolio that tracks the ups and downs of a particular market index such as the ASX 200 or ASX Small Ordinaries index.  

 

Index funds are therefore said to be ‘passively managed’, unlike ‘actively managed’ funds where the investment manager is more actively choosing which securities to buy and sell with the aim of exceeding a pre-set benchmark or index. For this reason, fees tend to be higher with actively managed funds.  

International markets represent investment opportunities in overseas countries. Australian investors can choose from a huge variety of managed funds that invest around the world, either with an Australian investment manager with global expertise or with an investment manager from another country.  

 

Global investing therefore offers huge diversity and investment opportunity but comes with an additional potential for volatility via currency risk, where investment returns in the target country (even if very good) can be offset by adverse changes in the value of the Australian dollar relative to the other country’s currency. Investment managers sometimes use a complex technique called hedging to reduce this currency risk.  

An investment manager can be an individual or organisation who manages the pool of investors’ money. A large organisation (such as CFS) typically has an in-house team of investment specialists with expertise across all the main asset types such as cash, fixed interest, shares and property as well as expertise in more niche or unusual investments. This team makes the key decisions for each of the investment funds they manage, such as when to buy and sell assets within the fund and what the investment mandate will be.  

 

So-called multi-manager funds are made up of several investment managers from different organisations – brought together and managed in a single fund by the in-house investment team. These ‘outsourced’ investment managers are chosen for their track record and expertise in a specific asset type such as global fixed interest, or in a niche area such as technology shares, Asian sharemarkets or small companies.  

A listed company is one that issues shares for trading on a stock exchange (and is therefore ‘listed’ with all the other companies on that exchange). Listed companies are also known as public companies, because anyone who wants shares can buy them.  

A listed investment company invests in financial assets (typically shares), but is itself listed on a stock exchange where its shares can be bought and sold. An LIC enables you to invest in a range of securities within one product and so buy into a diversified portfolio for a small initial investment. In this respect an LIC is similar to a managed fund or exchange traded fund (ETF).  

When you invest in a managed fund, your money is pooled with other investors’ funds and overseen by an investment manager. The managed fund owns the underlying investments – such as shares – and buys and sells them on your behalf. Unlike if you buy shares directly on the stock exchange, you don’t own the underlying investments yourself – instead you’re allocated units in the fund. How many units you get depends on how much you invest and the unit price, which changes daily.  

 

The value of your investment fluctuates over time depending on the changing values of the underlying assets, reflected in the changing unit price. As the assets in the fund generate income (such as share dividends) you may receive regular payments, called distributions.  

A margin loan is a way of creating a geared investment portfolio, in which you borrow funds to increase the amount of money you can invest and thus potentially generate bigger returns (and potentially greater losses).   

 

Unlike a geared managed fund in which the borrowing takes place within the fund and any losses are reflected in the unit price, a margin loan can be taken out by an individual who bears full responsibility for the interest payments and repaying the loan. The big risk with margin loans is that if the value of the investment portfolio falls below a predetermined level plus a small margin, the lender will make a ‘margin call’ and demand that the borrower provide additional funds to make up the shortfall. 

A PDS is a document that providers of financial products must make available to prospective investors or purchasers. In effect, a PDS is a guide to a product (such as a managed fund) and must contain certain information such as the product’s key features, fees, benefits and risks, as well as how to buy into the product or investment.  

 

You should always read a PDS before deciding whether to invest in a fund or other product. They’re also a good place to look if you have a question about your investment.  

Understanding and managing risk is a critical step in making investment decisions. Risk is simply the possibility of an investment falling in value and losing you money, or of it earning less than expected. All investing carries a level of risk, which is inversely related to returns. As a general principle, the more risk you’re prepared to take, the greater your potential investment return.  

 

It’s important to remember that even if your investment has fallen in value, you only lose your money when you ‘crystallise’ your loss by selling out of your investment. Successful long-term investing often depends on your ability to tolerate short-term falls in value to benefit from an overall upward trend over time.   

In investing, a security is a portion of an asset (such as a parcel of shares) that may fluctuate in value and can be bought, sold or traded on a financial market such as a stock or commodities exchange.  

When you buy shares (also called stocks or equities) you’re becoming a part-owner (‘share’ owner) in a listed company. You’re entitled to have a say in how the company is run and benefit from any potential profits by receiving dividend payments. Shares are classed as a growth asset, meaning they have the potential for higher returns but with greater risk of losing money.  

 

Share prices change virtually in real time during the hours a stock exchange is open. Share prices simply reflect supply and demand – if a company becomes more attractive, more investors will want to buy its shares, pushing the price up. If a company reports bad news such as lower than expected profits, lots of investors might rush to sell out and the price will drop.   

Short selling, or ‘shorting’, is a high-risk investment strategy which involves selling a security (such as a certain number of shares) that the investor doesn’t own, in the belief that its value is going to fall. The investor borrows the shares from a third party (typically a broker) and sells them, only to buy an identical number of shares later (for less money) and return them to the lender, thereby making a profit. However, if the value of the shares increases instead, the investor may lose a lot of money. 

 

The opposite of short selling is called ‘long selling’ or ‘going long’ and is the more traditional investment strategy. It involves an investor simply buying an asset in the expectation that its price or value will rise.  

Stocks is another name for shares or equities

A term deposit enables you invest a sum of money for a set time frame (a ‘term’) and receive a specified rate of interest.  

A unit price is the value of one unit in a managed fund, super investment option or other investment structure.  

 

Unlike share prices which can fluctuate virtually in real time (while the stock exchange is open), unit prices are calculated once daily, at the end of each business day. The price is calculated by dividing the net asset value (the value of the fund’s assets minus fees, expenses and tax) by the number of units on issue. Positive investment returns will push the net asset value up, increasing the unit price – and vice versa. 

Unitisation is the process of dividing ownership of the collective assets in a managed fund or other investment structure by allocating units in the fund to each investor in proportion to the size of their investment.  

Unlisted assets are investments that aren’t traded on public exchanges and can include:

  • Real estate from small property syndicates to unlisted property trusts with multi-billion portfolios

  • Infrastructure such as toll roads, railways, ports, airports or utilities providers

  • Private equity such as investing in privately-owned companies or providing seed capital for start-up ventures 

  • Private credit, which involves issuing loans to privately owned businesses (akin to the role of a bank).

What’s next?

Investing for beginners

Investing for beginners

Learn everything you need to know to plan and start your investment journey.

 

Investment Options

Investment Options

Learn about the different types of investments you can make, and which might be right for you.

 

What is superannuation?

What is superannuation?

How does super work? What are the different types? Find out in our complete guide to superannuation. 

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Avanteos Investments Limited ABN 20 096 259 979, AFSL 245531 (AIL) is the trustee of the Colonial First State FirstChoice Superannuation Trust ABN 26 458 298 557 and issuer of FirstChoice range of super and pension products. Colonial First State Investments Limited ABN 98 002 348 352, AFSL 232468 (CFSIL) is the responsible entity and issuer of products made available under FirstChoice Investments and FirstChoice Wholesale Investments.Information on this webpage is provided by AIL and CFSIL. It may include general advice but does not consider your individual objectives, financial situation, needs or tax circumstances. You can find the target market determinations (TMD) for our financial products at www.cfs.com.au/tmd, which include a description of who a financial product might suit. You should read the relevant Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) and Financial Services Guide (FSG) carefully, assess whether the information is appropriate for you, and consider talking to a financial adviser before making an investment decision. You can get the PDS and FSG at www.cfs.com.au or by calling us on 13 13 36