In 2021, many brokers increased the transaction tax on VWCE ("beurstaks" or "taxe boursière") from 0.12% to 1.32%. The 11-fold increase has implications on the cost of investing in VWCE, a popular ETF for Belgians. How do we calculate its impact? And what alternatives to VWCE are there?
What changed with the transaction tax?
The broker Bolero surprised everyone when they increased the transaction tax, also called "TOB", of VWCE to 1.32% in July 2021. This is much higher than the 0.12% rate that other brokers in Belgium were still charging. It seems like all brokers will have to follow though, according to the Vlaamse Federatie Van Beleggers (VFB).
The Belgian taxman used to consider the distributing and accumulating variants of a same fund as separate. So the TOB was 0.12% as long as an accumulating fund wasn't registered in Belgium, even if its distributing variant was. With the change, the tax authorities decided that the accumulating and distributing versions of the fund are the same. And if the fund provider registers the distributing version of a fund in Belgium, they consider the accumulating version as registered in Belgium too.
VWCE is accumulating and is not registered in Belgium. Vanguard did register VWRL, its distributing variant, in Belgium. So with the change, the taxman considers VWCE as registered in Belgium, causing the jump in TOB from 0.12% to 1.32%.
What does the TOB increase mean for your return?
The increase in TOB affects your investments in two ways:
- While you invest during the accumulation period of your life
- At the very end of your investment journey, when you sell your investments to live off the money
We calculated the impact on the average annual return if you were to buy €200 of VWCE every month for 20 years:
- no TOB: 5.17%
- 0.12% TOB: 5.16%
- 1.32% TOB: 5.03%
You can see that the 0.12% transaction tax has only a small effect on the return. But the 1.32% tax rate reduces the average annual return by 0.13%, from 5.16% down to 5.03%. Every month, the higher tax reduces the amount of VWCE that you can buy. The difference compounds and becomes significant over time.
For this reason, let's look at some alternatives for VWCE.
Note: You can find the calculations for the results in the table on a Google Sheet. Feel free to make a copy if you wish to change the parameters to suit your situation.
VWRL is VWCE's distributing variant, meaning that it distributes dividends to investors rather than reinvesting them in the fund. The TOB is 0.12%, making it cheaper than VWCE for most brokers. However, the way dividends are taxed in Belgium make VWRL inefficient from a tax perspective. So VWRL is not a good alternative.
Alternative 1: IWDA + EMIM
The combination of IWDA and EMIM, two funds provided by iShares, is equivalent to VWCE when weighted in the right proportions. VWCE tracks the FTSE All-World index, which is composed of the FTSE Developed Markets index and the FTSE Emerging Markets index. IWDA (ISIN: IE00B4L5Y983), which tracks MSCI World, covers the developed markets. And EMIM (ISIN: IE00BKM4GZ66) tracks MSCI Emerging Markets IMI, which is an alternative for the FTSE Emerging Markets index.
IWDA + EMIM is more diversified than VWCE
A positive thing about the IWDA and EMIM combination is a higher diversification. You would invest in of 4,789 companies, compared to 4,100 for the FTSE All-World index that VWCE tracks.
Another diversification benefit is that EMIM includes small-cap stocks from emerging markets, whereas VWCE includes only large-cap and mid-cap companies.
Weighing of IWDA and EMIM
The stocks in VWCE are weighted by market cap. Equities from developed markets make up about 90% of the fund and it invests the remaining 10% in equities from emerging markets. Because EMIM contains small-cap stocks, the recommended split becomes 89% in IWDA and 11% in EMIM.
This ratio changes slowly over time. So it's something to keep an eye on throughout your investment journey.
VWCE is as simple as it can get
The IWDA+EMIM combinationis more costly than VWCE when it comes to broker fees. After all, you have to make an additional transaction with each round of investments. You can use our comparison tool to find the broker fees for IWDA and for EMIM.
Furthermore, two funds are slightly more cumbersome to manage than one fund. For instance, it's more complicated to calculate the number of shares to buy during each investment round, while respecting the weighting in your portfolio. The simplicity of a single ETF is attractive.
Note that there are limitations to having just VWCE in your investment portfolio. We discuss these in “Why "VWCE and chill” isn’t suited for everyone".
The chart below shows that there's very little difference in performance between VWCE and the IWDA + EMIM combination. This is not surprising considering their indexes are so similar!
If we had invested €10,000 in 2005, both strategies would have resulted in about €42,500 today. The average return has been around 9.2% per year.
Alternative 2: Curvo Growth
The other option for Belgian passive investors is to invest through Curvo. In particular, Curvo’s Growth portfolio has similar diversification as VWCE. It's composed of two funds, both offered by Vanguard:
- A fund tracking the FTSE Developed All Cap Choice index (ISIN: IE00B5456744)
- A fund tracking the FTSE Emerging All Cap Choice index (ISIN: IE00BKV0W243)
The combination is similar to FTSE All-World, the index that VWCE tracks.
Curvo Growth is more diversified than VWCE
First of all, the indexes in Curvo Growth include small-cap companies. VWCE excludes these. As a consequence, Curvo Growth invests in 8,102 companies, which is almost twice as much as the number of companies in VWCE.
The two funds in Curvo Growth are sustainable. Sustainable investing is challenging because everyone has different beliefs and values. The funds focus on one guiding principle: they don't support companies that are considered destructive to the planet. This means the following sectors are excluded:
- non-renewable energy (nuclear power, fossil fuels)
- vice products (adult entertainment, alcohol, gambling, tobacco)
- weapons (civilian firearms, military weapons)
- controversial companies, which are companies that do not meet the labour, human rights, environmental and anti-corruption standards defined by the United Nations Global Compact
No transaction tax
Another advantage is that the TOB is not applicable for the funds in Curvo’s portfolios.
All your money is invested
Curvo works with fractional shares meaning that all your money is invested. When buying your own ETFs, you're required to buy whole units of shares. For instance, VWCE just crossed the €100 price per share. This means that if you invest €100 per month, you won't be able to buy VWCE the first month. Instead, you'll have to wait the second month to buy your first share. And then you'll be left with a relatively large portion of cash. You don't encounter this issue with Curvo Growth and you can start investing from the first month, regardless of how little you invest.
VWCE is likely cheaper
The price of using Curvo is likely more expensive than buying ETFs through a broker. It costs 1% “all-in” for the service, on your total investments. This provides you with peace of mind as rebalancing is taken care of, and fractional shares are used which means every euro you send to your portfolio is invested. And you can set up a direct debit to send contributions monthly and put your investments on autopilot.
We compared the cost of investing periodically between the different brokers in Belgium.
The past performance of Curvo Growth has been very similar to VWCE, as you can see in the chart below. Curvo Growth has seen a slightly higher average return at 9.4% per year, but that is nothing significant.
With decisions like this, it’s important to understand the cost linked to switching investment strategy, especially when considering broker fees. The change in tax rate for buying and selling VWCE has made some reconsider whether they should stick with it. Others are even questioning whether it makes sense to have accumulating or distributing funds in their portfolio.
We’re still fortunate in Belgium that capital gains for stocks are not taxed. Our analysis shows that the 1.32% TOB rate does make a difference in the future return. For this reason alone, it’s worth considering one of the two alternatives we’ve highlighted:
- The “do-it-yourself” approach of EMIM + IWDA
- An app like Curvo that takes the work out of your hands