The Two Minute Review
However, if you’re looking to make frequent trades, dabble in crypto or FX or just want a slick digital interface this isn’t the pick for you.
- 🔐 A huge trusted brand.
- 💷 Low platform fees for a traditional broker.
- 💹 Over 19,000 investment assets.
- ☎️ Excellent customer service.
- 💷 More expensive than many newcomers to the market (e.g. Trading 212 or Freetrade).
- 👴 The platform is looking a bit tired.
What The Experts Say
What Scores Are Users Giving?
Some Interesting User Comments
We spend hours reading user comments to see what feedback people are giving. Here are some positive and critical comments that stood out to us:
Overall they offer good value as an investment platform and access to a wide range of markets. I have always found customer service and dealing advice very helpful.
I like the options of increased risk, and have spread my funds accordingly. When needing advice, your staff were very helpful (and patient!). The follow up email to check I’m happy was a very nice touch (and to put this review in it too – good tactics).
None are perfect. There is an element of you-get-what-you-pay-for. For me A J Bell hits the sweet spot: full set of features & products, lowish price, established trustable player in market. Check out the Monevator broker list to see what matches your chosen investments and trading pattern best. You may well find A J Bell works for you.
The initial online application was straightforward and seemed to have been completed satisfactorily. However, things started going badly wrong when emails started pouring in. One, from a Mr Cashin, was supposed to set out the application process but was so inadequate it only added to the uncertainty and confusion. All of a sudden, my application no longer appeared complete, after all, and had to be redone. Then, on top of all that, an uncertain number of paper documents had to be completed and mailed. Two long “chats” on the firm’s online “chat” service, in an attempt to clarify matters, only made the sense of frustration all the worse. The only solution was to draft a very long, time-consuming email to the firm. Fortunately, the three members of staff I have since had dealings with could not have been more helpful. Matters have been quickly resolved, but not without the lodging of a complaint.
The problem is my USA investments. They are not able to show the % increase or decrease on the same basis as UK shares. For instance every day they will show how my UK shares are performing in the last column, either up or down % wise. But for US shares the end column is always zero. The only way I know how they are performing is to log down yesterday’s price and compare it to today’s. This is TOTALLY unacceptable and ridiculous. I have asked them several times to improve their spreadsheet to do this but they will not or cannot do this.
But my experience has been poor with their website and their app. You really can’t do any research on their platform and the analysis tools are really poor both in terms of functionality but also with dropout rates. On top of that, I will need to pay exit charges with them if I don’t like their service and want to move my money elsewhere!
The Deep Dive
AJ Bell, established in 1995 by the economists Andy Bell and Nicholas Littlefair, is a stalwart UK investment platform that has been waving the flag for long-term investing in the UK for nearly three decades. Initially providing actuarial services, AJ Bell has evolved into one of the UK’s leading investment platforms, known for its ‘do-it-yourself’ (DIY) investment platform, AJ Bell Youinvest.
The Youinvest platform caters to the growing trend of self-directed investing, offering a functional interface, competitive fees, and extensive educational resources. As of early 2023, AJ Bell manages over £72.8 billion in assets, a substantial figure that is only surpassed in the UK by Hargreaves Lansdown, the market leader, with over £120 billion.
AJ Bell’s 2018 public listing on the London Stock Exchange was a significant milestone, solidifying its market position. Despite being smaller than Hargreaves Lansdown, AJ Bell’s commitment to affordability and investor education makes it a preferred choice for many UK investors.
🏦 It’s got the works.
As a behemoth of the UK investing world, it offers a huge range of accounts:
Self-Invested Personal Pension (SIPP): This is a pension account that allows individuals to make their own investment decisions regarding their pension funds. It’s designed for people who want to manage their retirement savings and choose from a wide range of investment options.
Individual Savings Account (ISA): AJ Bell provides a Stocks & Shares ISA, which allows individuals to invest in a range of assets while enjoying tax-free gains. There’s an annual limit to how much can be contributed, which is set by the government.
Lifetime ISA (LISA): Aimed at either first-time home buyers or those saving for retirement, the LISA comes with a government bonus of 25% on contributions up to a set limit each tax year.
Dealing Account: Also known as an investment account, this is a general, taxable investment account that allows individuals to buy and sell a variety of investment assets without the tax advantages of SIPPs or ISAs.
Junior ISA (JISA): A tax-efficient savings account for children, allowing parents and guardians to invest on behalf of their child with benefits similar to a regular ISA.
Junior SIPP: This is a pension account for children, allowing parents and guardians to invest towards their child’s retirement from an early age.
Income Drawdown: An account that allows you to withdraw funds from your pension pot as needed while the rest remains invested and potentially grows.
Cash: AJ Bell has teamed up with partner banks to allow you to gain interest on any cash you are holding. Usually, you have to agree to lock this up for a period of time. Right now they are offering 5.59% if you agree not to touch your funds for 9 months.
Range of Investments
📈 AJ Bell has a huge range of investments, that will satisfy most retail investors.
Shares: Investors can buy and sell shares from both UK and international markets, allowing them to invest directly in companies they believe in. There are 24 worldwide exchanges to pick from and over 14,000 stocks listed in total. For most retail investors this is more than sufficient.
Funds: This includes a wide selection of managed funds, such as unit trusts and open-ended investment companies (OEICs), managed by professional fund managers.
In total AJ Bell has 2,000 funds which is comprehensive but can be a little bamboozling.
Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs): These are investment funds traded on stock exchanges, much like shares. They typically aim to track the performance of an index and can offer a cost-effective way to diversify. AJ Bell currently offers over 3,000 of these funds.
Investment Trusts: These are companies listed on the stock exchange that invest in the shares of other companies. They offer another way to gain diversified exposure to the markets. AJ Bell currently offers over 400 of these.
Bonds and Gilts: For a more conservative investment, AJ Bell offers government bonds (gilts) and corporate bonds, which can provide regular income and are typically considered lower risk than stocks.
Cash: Investors can also hold cash in their accounts, which can be useful for managing investments or preparing to make future trades.
AJ Bell, as a more traditional broker, steers clear of riskier investments such as CFDs (Contract For Difference) and cryptocurrencies.
💸 It’s cheap for a traditional broker, but expensive compared to the newer app-based brokers.
AJ Bell breaks down its charges between ongoing account fees (called “custody charges”) and fees per trade:
- Custody charges for shares and ETFs: For shares and ETFs you pay 0.25% annually of their value, but this is capped at £3.50 a month for all accounts (except SIPPs which have a cap of £10 a month).
- Custody charges for funds: You pay 0.25% up to £250,000, 0.1% between £250,000 and £500,000 and anything above this is free.
- Trading fees: These break down in the following way:
NOTE: All of this applies to online trades. To make a trade over the phone that costs £29.95!
If you’re buying a stock not listed in GBP you will also have to pay a 0.75% foreign exchange fee.
This makes AJ Bell, for most portfolios, much cheaper than Hargreaves Lansdown, which typically charges a 0.45% annual fee on funds under £250,000 and £11.95 for your first 9 trades a month (going down to £8.95 for the next 10 and £5.95 after that). However, its “Fund & Share” account does not charge any annual fee for holding shares so you might want to look at this if you’re just after a general account to trade shares.
Interactive Investor will typically charge you a flat fee of £4.99 a month for portfolios under £50,000 and £11.99 a month for larger portfolios. You then get a free trade a month, but anything beyond this costs £3.99 for US and UK trades and £11.99 for other international trades. It’s harder to make a comparison here of which is cheaper in all circumstances so you will have to work it based on your current situation.
What is clear though is that newer entrants to the market are slashing the price of investing – for example, check out our review of Trading 212 and its costs. If you can sacrifice the big brand name, you’re likely to save a bit of cash.
Opening an Account
🚪 We opened an account in less than 10 minutes.
We tested opening a standard share dealing account and the process was straightforward and took just over 8 minutes.
You will be asked for the following things: NI number, bank details, debit card details and details of any other accounts if want to transfer. You will also be required to set up a couple of security questions.
You also get the option of how you want to pay – debit card, regular payment or via transferring over another account.
🖥️ Functional, but not the best user experience.
Once you’ve opened an account you can log in (there is 2-factor authentication which you can get past by receiving a text or email).
The homepage will present you with an overview of your accounts as well as the options to view them in greater detail, as well as buy/sell shares (“Deal”) and top up your funds.
When you click “View” you get a detailed breakdown of the investments you have within that account, including how many shares or units you hold of each asset, what you paid and the change in value.
There is also a pie chart overview of how your stocks break down into sectors and, for ISAs, an overview of your remaining tax-free allowance.
To buy a share you select “Buy and sell” and search for the asset you want. You will be given an overview of its price over time and then receive a current quote that is valid for 15 seconds. As is typical with traditional brokers, you cannot buy fractional shares which can make some big US stocks out of reach for some people.
The platform gives a functional snapshot of your portfolio and an easy way to buy and sell stocks – but is starting to look a little dated. We think it’s time for AJ Bell to overhaul its user experience as newer challenger brands have much slicker designs.
If you’re looking to do frequent, or even day, trading then AJ Bell just isn’t set up for you. Its sweet spot is the considered investor looking to build wealth with long-term value stocks.
Is it good for beginners?
🧑🎓 Yes. It’s quick and simple to get to grips with and offers loads of support.
Even though it’s not the most user-friendly, the platform is still easy enough for most people new to investing to pick up within half an hour or so.
Also, AJ Bell offers a selection of ready-made portfolios, designed to cater to various investment goals and risk appetites. These provide a hassle-free investment solution for those who prefer a hands-off approach or are uncertain about choosing individual investments. They currently offer 3 “growth” portfolios (cautious, balanced and adventurous) and one “income” fund that aims to give returns via dividends and bond interest.
It’s important to note these are not professionally managed so you will have to keep an eye on performance and rebalance them yourself over time.
AJ Bell also provides an extensive array of educational resources. Their platform features a dedicated section filled with articles, videos, and webinars that cover a broad spectrum of investment topics, from fundamental principles to advanced strategies. We particularly like their “Money & Markets” podcast. Additionally, AJ Bell offers ‘Shares Magazine’ that delivers in-depth market analysis, investment ideas, and financial news. This magazine is a particularly useful tool for investors looking to deepen their market understanding and stay informed about the latest trends. Together, these resources equip new investors with the knowledge to make informed decisions and navigate the investment landscape confidently.
How good is customer service?
☎️ Customer service is a real stand-out point for AJ Bell.
They offer a comprehensive help section plus the ability to get in touch with a real person via email, web chat or phone.
We tested web chat and were able to contact a real person in under 1 minute. We also tested phone wait times and were able to get through to a real person in 8 seconds.
Is it safe?
🔒 AJ Bell is one of the most trusted names in investing.
As a regulated entity under the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), AJ Bell adheres to rigorous financial and operational standards.
Investments with AJ Bell are safeguarded by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS), offering individual investor protection up to £85,000 in the unlikely event of company insolvency. AJ Bell’s commitment to security is evident in its robust cybersecurity measures, including encryption and two-factor authentication, to protect client data and prevent unauthorized access.
With a solid history of profitability and financial stability, AJ Bell is considered a safe platform for investors. However, while the platform itself is secure, all investments inherently carry risk, and investors should assess their own risk tolerance and perform due diligence when choosing any investment platform.
So in conclusion, is it a good platform?
AJ Bell is a good platform and we can we why it has won an army of loyal fans. We think it’s best for those who want to build a portfolio that they will only occasionally make adjustments to. For those looking to trade more frequently, the cost will become prohibitive and the design is slightly too clunky.