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24 May 2021

Which? reveals best DIY investment platforms

The number of investors has soared during lockdown

Vanguard and AJ Bell Youinvest have been rated the best investment platforms by Which? members for a third year running.

The annual investor satisfaction survey ran amid a surge in trading volumes and new customer registrations, despite the market turmoil caused by coronavirus.

AJ Bell Youinvest saw a 30% increase in customers in 2020 (almost a third of whom were aged under 30); in the year to March 2021 Vanguard saw a whopping 130% rise; and the UK's biggest platform, Hargreaves Lansdown, reported 58% more sign-ups.

If you're considering investing for the first time via a platform, or want to move to a different one, we've got you covered.

Our annual survey of investment platforms comprised of unique reviews and ratings for 11 leading brokers, based on a survey of nearly 2,000 Which? members. We've also analysed fees to help you find the best home for your investments.

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Why are more people using investment platforms?

It may seem surprising that investing has surged during one of the worst economic declines in history.

Some people have been able to save more during lockdown - the Office for Budget Responsibility estimates households will have £180bn in extra savings by the middle of this year.

Savings interest rates remain low, even as inflation begins to rise, making the higher returns (but also risk) associated with investing more tempting.

Experienced investors may have spotted potential bargains as share prices plummeted during the onset of the pandemic.

More recently, controversies around GameStop, Bitcoin and Dogecoin have tempted younger people to invest their savings.

It's now easier than ever to open investment accounts online or by using mobile apps and often with just a small sum of money. For instance, Vanguard allows you to start off with an initial investment of £500, which you can pay in five monthly instalments.

If you're considering investing for the first time, be sure to do your research to ensure DIY investing is right for you. You can read our dedicated guides to help you make a decision.

Vanguard and AJ Bell Youinvest named top platforms

Vanguard and AJ Bell Youinvest received excellent customer scores of 77% and 72% respectively, and have been named Which? Recommended Providers (WRPs) for 2021-22, as they continue to be rated above competitors.

Customer scores weren't the only thing that ensured the pair came out top - they also have reasonably low fees. In our analysis, neither were among the three most expensive platforms for any of the portfolio sizes we looked at. Both were cheaper than rival Hargreaves Lansdown, which plummeted in the rankings last year, and remained sixth in this year's analysis.

At the bottom of the table were HSBC and Barclays Smart Investor, which received 55% and 48% respectively.

To see how your provider performed, read our guide to the best and worst investment platforms. You can also compare costs in our dedicated platform charges guide.

Comparing share trading costs

This year, in addition to comparing the cost of fund trading, Which? compared the cost of share trading for the first time.

You can compare costs in our charges guide.

Bear in mind that different platforms offer access to different types of investments, including platform-specific fund discounts. For example, Vanguard only offers access to its own funds.

Charges aside, some members this year commented on long hold times over the phone during coronavirus, and some others were disappointed by the provider transfer process. One Interactive Investor customer said it took six months to transfer to Halifax Share Dealing, which got three out of five stars for customer service in our analysis.

No provider received a five-star rating for customer service, but eight out of 11 received four out of five stars including our WRPs and Hargreaves Lansdown.

I'm unhappy with my provider: how do I do switch?

If you're unhappy with your provider, switching can be quite simple. You'll need to open an account with your new provider by filling out its transfer form, which you should be able to find on its website.

It will then liaise with your current provider and do all the heavy lifting for you.

Transferring won't affect your Isa allowance, although you can only open one type of Isa per tax year. However, if you're transferring into an Isa, rather then between Isas, you could trigger a capital gains tax bill if the funds and shares you hold aren't available on the new platform you've chosen, as they may be sold and transferred as cash.

Although they're much less common these days, watch out for exit fees. They can add up hundreds of pounds in some cases.

Switching shouldn't take you longer than a few months and can take just a couple of weeks.

First featured in June's Which? Money magazine

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