When you start your investment journey, it can be daunting to figure out which ETFs to choose from. There are thousands of ETFs available to us as investors. But which are the best ETFs to buy from Belgium? That’s what we’re answering here.
Why ETFs are good investments
ETFs are great as they provide significant diversification in one single fund. ETFs are baskets of stocks or bonds. You’ll want to invest in stock ETFs as they have historically delivered high returns. As some of the ETFs highlighted below show, you’ll be invested in thousands of different companies through one single fund.
Investing in ETFs (also called "trackers", and very similar to "index funds") is a way to do passive investing because you're not actively trying to outsmart other investors. Instead, you simply invest in as many different companies as possible across the world, thereby earning the average return of the global economy. It’s a tried and tested strategy for long-term returns.
How the ETFs were selected
The ETFs we selected for this guide all follow a specific set of criteria for Belgian investors. Here’s a recap of the most important ones:
- Accumulating: in order to reduce the tax burden, it’s important that Belgian investors choose accumulating ETFs. As these funds directly reinvest their dividends, you won’t have to pay the 30% dividend tax.
- Domiciled in Ireland or Luxembourg: both countries have special tax treaties with many countries around the world. This makes it advantageous tax-wise for us to invest in funds domicilied in Ireland or Luxembourg.
- Traded in €: we only selected funds that are trading in Euro as we don’t want to pay unnecessary currency exchange fees.
- Follows an index: the style of investing based on trackers, also called passive investing, is a superior strategy for most people. There’s no need to spend time analysing individual stocks, you can just follow an index of companies.
- Diversified across sectors and countries: you’re exposed to hundreds and sometimes thousands of companies in one go through one single fund.
- Low cost: with the lack of active management involved, ETFs are a cheaper way of investing than through your bank.
We wrote extensively on the topic if you want to dive deeper.
Ok, you’ve understood the criteria. But what are the best ETFs to invest from Belgium in 2023? Let’s have a look.
1) VWCE (FTSE All-World index)
Yearly costs (TER): 0.22%
Broker fee: you can buy VWCE for free on DEGIRO and BUX Zero
The VWCE fund (ISIN: IE00BK5BQT80) continues to be a popular ETF for the Belgian index investing community. The fund, launched by Vanguard in 2019 to track the performance of the FTSE All-World Index, currently holds more than €11 billion under management.
It's composed of approximately 3,700 stocks. And because it's so diversified, investors can find in VWCE a great way to follow the market and hold a significant portion of the world's stocks. Equities such as Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, etc… are represented in the fund. The index has returned an average of about 8.6% per year since 2005:
One downside with investing everything through VWCE is that you will only invest in stocks. Stocks are a risky asset, meaning that your investment will fluctuate a lot. It’s important to understand your own unique approach to risk, how it affects you and find the right balance that suits you. So it’s often beneficial to reduce the riskiness of your portfolio by including bonds, if it will prevent you from selling at the worst possible time and incur a much bigger loss.
Another downside with VWCE is that it does not apply sustainability criteria when selecting the companies that it invests in. Due to its globally diversified nature, tracking the performance of close to 3,700 companies of all types around the world, you can't consider VWCE to be sustainable in terms of environmental, social, and corporate governance criteria (ESG). For instance, an investment in VWCE means an investment in companies that manufacture and sell controversial weapons. The lack of ethical concerns in the selection of companies within VWCE can be a drag on investors wishing to follow responsible investment ethics.
1.32% transaction tax
The Belgian state levies a tax for every transaction you make on a stock exchange, whether it's to buy or sell. This tax is called the Belgian transaction tax. Most ETFs have a 0.12% transaction tax rate. But VWCE has a 1.32% rate because the fund is registered in Belgium.
Note that strangely enough, not all brokers use this rate for VWCE. Some continue to use the 0.12% tax rate. Check our broker comparison tool for VWCE to find out the specifics.
We cover these downsides of VWCE and others in more detail.
2) IWDA (MSCI World index)
Yearly costs (TER): 0.20%
Broker fee: you can buy IWDA for free on DEGIRO and BUX Zero
Second in our list is IWDA (ISIN: IE00B4L5Y983), which is offered by iShares (a brand of BlackRock). It tracks the MSCI World index, an index that consists of about 1,500 stocks from 23 countries that economists qualify as "developed": United States, Germany, Japan, United Kingdom, Australia…
Investing in IWDA means investing in a wide segment of the global economy. Many investors choose to simply invest in this one ETF as their entire portfolio. It has returned a staggering 10.9% annually since 1978:
All in stocks
Choosing the makeup of your portfolio isn’t the easiest task as an investor. As we’ve seen through VWCE, being 100% exposed to stocks is a risk and may not help you sleep at night when drops in the stock market occur.
Does not invest in the whole world
In contrast with VWCE, IWDA does not invest in emerging countries, like China or Brazil. That's why many Belgian investors opt for further diversification and combine their IWDA ETF with another fund such as EMIM (ISIN: IE00BKM4GZ66). The EMIM ETF focuses on stocks from emerging markets. If you combine it with IWDA, you would be investing in 4,789 companies. Scroll down to number 4 in the list for additional details!
If you’re convinced of IWDA, take a look at our article on how to buy IWDA as a Belgian investor.
Only invests in large companies
The MSCI World index tracks only the largest companies. These companies are called "large-cap", from "market capitalisation". But just like it's beneficial as an investor to diversify across countries, it's also a good idea to spread your bets across different company sizes. For instance, VWCE also includes mid-cap companies. The sole inclusion of large-cap companies is a limitation of IWDA.
3) Curvo Growth
Yearly costs (TER): 0.25%
Broker fee: no transaction fees are charged
Curvo fee: 1% per year
Curvo’s Growth portfolio is one of the most popular combinations for Belgian investors. 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)
This combination is similar to the FTSE All-World. Through Curvo Growth you invest in over 7,500 companies. The portfolio has returned approximately 8.5% annually since 2005:
The challenges of investing through a broker
Managing your own portfolio of ETFs through a broker can be challenging:
- You need to do your own learning. Figuring out how to start and understanding the intricacies of passive investing requires some research.
- The allocation of your portfolio is in your hands. Everyone has a portfolio that is right for them, depending on their financial goals, their financial situation, their tolerance to risk, their capacity for taking risks… And when you manage your own investments through a broker, you are responsible for finding that right portfolio for you and sticking with it.
- Manual labour. It doesn't take long to calculate and execute your transactions monthly. But after a while, it becomes an annoying task.
- Learn how to rebalance. Do you wish to do so quarterly, yearly, never? How to decide?
- Choose a broker. There are tons of options for Belgian investors to choose from. How do you pick the one that you feel safe with?
- Figure out taxes. Taxes are complicated. Also, they change all the time!
- Discipline. It requires discipline to stay the course.
Investing the right way through Curvo
We think passive investing is such a powerful tool to improve our financial future. But when we started investing, we realised the difficulties of investing well through a broker. We built Curvo to solve these complexities and become the easiest way for any Belgian to invest passively:
- Diversified portfolio built for you. Answer a questionnaire on your goals with investing and your appetite for risk. You’ll then get access to a broadly diversified portfolio that invests in over 7,500 companies, and that matches your goals and risk tolerance.
- All your money is invested. Curvo offers fractional shares. This means that all your money is invested for you.
- No transaction tax. Contrary to all the ETFs listed here, there’s no transaction tax to be paid when investing through Curvo.
- Sustainability at the core. Curvo focuses on one guiding principle: we don’t invest in companies that are considered destructive to the planet. This means that sectors like non-renewable energy, vice products, weapons and controversial companies are all excluded.
- Automated savings plans. You can set up a monthly savings plan. Every month, the amount of your choice will be debited from your bank account and automatically invested for you in your portfolio.
- Project yourself in the future. Through the app you can see how much your portfolio is expected to be worth in the future. You can answer questions like “how will increasing my monthly contribution by €50, €100 or €200 affect my long-term savings?” to give a concrete idea for the “future you”.
- Partnership with itsme. Your data is secure as we work with the same trusted partner that you use to log into your bank or declare your taxes.
- Withdraw anytime. There’s no long-term contract or exit fees if you wish to stop investing with Curvo.
Read more on how Curvo works.
Sustainable investing is challenging because everyone has different ethical beliefs and values. The funds in the Curvo Growth portfolio 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
The downside of Curvo is the price. Using Curvo is likely more expensive than buying ETFs through a broker. It costs 1% “all-in” per year for the service, as a percentage of your total investments. But, it’s easier than having to open a brokerage account and managing your own portfolio of ETFs!
4) EMIM (MSCI Emerging Markets IMI index)
Annual costs (TER): 0.18% per year
Broker fee: you can buy EMIM for free on DEGIRO and BUX Zero
EMIM (ISIN: IE00BKM4GZ66) is offered by iShares and tracks the MSCI Emerging Markets IMI, which is an alternative for the FTSE Emerging Markets index. The index consists of roughly 3,000 companies from 23 countries that economists qualify as "emerging": China, Taiwan, India, South Korea, Brazil… What’s also interesting is that you get significant diversification as you get small to large companies in one single fund.
A €10,000 investment in the EMIM in 1994 would have resulted in almost €37,904 in 2022. That's a 4.8% average annual return:
Combining EMIM with IWDA
As we showed above, IWDA is one of the best ETF options for Belgian investors. Combining it with EMIM is a popular combination. The diversification benefit of adding EMIM means you’re including smaller companies from emerging markets which is often overlooked by the bigger funds like VWCE.
With this combination of IWDA and EMIM, both funds provided by iShares, is equivalent to VWCE when weighted in the right proportions. IWDA (ISIN: IE00B4L5Y983), which tracks MSCI World and covers the developed markets. This extra diversification means you’re investing in 4,789 companies in one go spread across the world.
Maintaining the right split between IWDA and EMIM
You’re essentially buying two different funds. If you wish to respect a market capitalisation weighting, the recommended split becomes 89% in IWDA and 11% in EMIM. The right allocation is something you have to manage yourself. It can become more cumbersome because the ratio changes over time.
Higher broker fees when investing in two funds
As you’re purchasing two funds, it also becomes more costly. After all, you have to make an additional transaction with each round of investments and pay the broker fees. This is why the simplicity of a single ETF is attractive for investors.
If you wish to learn more about combining IWDA and EMIM, take a look at our article that goes further.
5) SXR8 (S&P 500 index)
Annual costs (TER): 0.07% per year
Broker fee: you can buy SXR8 for free on DEGIRO
A popular ETF amongst Belgian investors is the iShares Core S&P 500 (Acc) ETF (ISIN: IE00B5BMR087). It's one of the better S&P 500 ETFs, and is offered by iShares, one of the largest fund providers in the world. S&P 500 stands for the Standard & Poor’s 500 index and as the name suggests, it seeks to track the performance of an index composed of the 500 largest American companies. Through the S&P 500, you get exposure to a large section of the US economy as it covers 80% of the total American market capitalisation.
As you can tell from the graph below, the S&P 500 has returned an average 10.4% per year since 1992. That’s quite a significant return on your investment if you began your investment journey in the early nineties:
There are a few downsides to investing in the S&P 500 though.
Invests only in the US
The 500 companies in the S&P 500 represent about 40% of the global stock market. This is significant, but it also means that you're leaving many companies aside if only investing in the S&P 500. There are great stocks to be held from other regions of the world, like Europe, Asia or South America.
Also, the US stock market has performed exceptionally well over the last 20 years. But that's not guarantee that it will over the next 20 years. Betting on a single country, no matter how dominant its market is at the moment, increases the likelihood of a bad outcome when investing for the long term.
Invests only in the largest companies
The S&P 500 invests in only the largest companies. But good investment returns can be achieved in mid-size and smaller companies too.
If you wish to learn more, we dig deeper into the advantages and disadvantages of investing solely in the S&P 500.
6) CNDX (Nasdaq-100 index)
Yearly costs (TER): 0.33%
Broker fee: you can buy CNDX for free on DEGIRO
Following our theme of US stocks, the ETF "iShares Nasdaq 100 UCITS ETF (Acc)" (ISIN: IE00B53SZB19) offered by iShares is another popular option for Belgian investors. It tracks the Nasdaq-100 index, which consists of 100 companies that are classified as technology companies. Industries such as hardware, software, telecommunications and biotechnology make up the index, and all major tech companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft and Tesla are in it.
Returns have been significant. A €10,000 investment in the Nasdaq-100 in 2007 would have resulted in almost €90,000 in 2022. That's a staggering 15.6% average annual return:
Concentrated in US tech stocks
Similar to the S&P 500, an investment in the Nasdaq-100 lacks diversification. It focuses so heavily on the American tech industry. In fact, the Nasdaq-100 makes up only 15% of the global stock market. Tech stocks have seen incredible returns the last 20 years. But the past does not guarantee future returns. And it's a real possibility that this scenario won't repeat itself over the next 30 years.
We cover the pros and cons of the Nasdaq-100 in more detail in investing in the Nasdaq-100 for Belgian investors.
7) IUSQ (MSCI All-Country World index)
Yearly costs (TER): 0.20%
Broker fee: the cheapest broker to buy IUSQ is DEGIRO and costs €1
The IUSQ fund (ISIN: IE00B6R52259) is a diversified ETF to buy for Belgians. This fund, launched by iShares in 2019, tracks the performance of the MSCI All-Country World Index (ACWI). The index is composed of almost 3,000 large and mid-sized companies from 23 developed and 24 emerging markets countries worldwide. Because it's so diversified, investors can find in IUSQ an easy way to invest in the global stock market.
The index has returned approximately 8.3% annually since 1987:
The same downsides of investing in VWCE holds, as investing in IUSQ means your asset allocation is purely 100% stocks. It’s often better to reduce the riskiness of your portfolio by including bonds, if it will prevent you from selling at the worst possible time and incur a loss due to the volatility of stocks.
Similar to other ETFs listed above except for Curvo Growth, IUSQ does not apply sustainability criteria when selecting the companies that it invests in.
8) DBZB (FTSE World Government Bond - Developed Markets (EUR Hedged) index)
Yearly costs (TER): 0.25%
Broker fee: DBZB is available for free on DEGIRO
All the ETFs we've seen up until now invest only in stocks. DBZB (ISIN code LU0378818131) is one of the most popular bond ETFs for Belgian investors. This fund, launched by Xtrackers in 2008 to track the performance of the FTSE World Government Bond for developed markets, currently holds more than €2 billion under management.
Governments issue bonds to borrow money from investors that they then spend on public services. Essentially, a government bond is a loan to the government.
This ETF is composed of bonds from “developed” markets. What this essentially means is that you have diversification and exposure to the following countries: United States, Japan, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, United Kingdom, Canada, Netherlands and our homeland Belgium 🇧🇪.
Historical return of DBZB
The index has returned approximately 6.1% per year since 1985. This is lower than the other ETFs discussed here, but it's because government bonds are less risky than stocks.
Whereas stocks are very exciting (and scary when they sharply drop), bonds are very boring. They don't fluctuate as much. So one way bonds are used in your portfolio is to tame the volatility of stocks. As Ben Felix explained in his interview with us, bonds are designed not to seek return, but to decrease volatility and stabilise a portfolio. Portfolios with more bonds relative to stocks will be better suited for investors with a lower appetite for risk. This means that going for a 100% stocks strategy or not should come in line with how smooth you wish your returns to be, to offset the potential impact of a downturn over your investment journey.
Beyond their role of stabilising a portfolio, bonds are also great diversifiers. It turns out that oftentimes when stocks are dropping, bonds are rising, and vice versa. So the losses of one type of asset can be partially offset by the gains of the other. In finance speak, we say that there is little correlation between stocks and bonds.
Also note that bonds held by Belgian investors are subject to the Reynders tax, which is 30% charged on capital gains. Yet this doesn’t outweigh the argument for holding bonds in your portfolio to stabilise your investments.
Bonds in the Curvo portfolios
We looked at the Curvo Growth portfolio above. But Curvo Growth is only one of 5 Curvo portfolios, each adapted to a different investor profile. We believe that bonds play an important role in making sure that a portfolio fits you and your long-term goals. So depending on your answers to our questions when you sign up to Curvo, your Curvo portfolio will consist of the right mix of stocks and bonds for you.
Comparison between the ETFs
“Past performance is no guarantee for future results' - I’m sure you have read this sentence in some disclaimer or other. However, this sentence is often misinterpreted and people conclude that the analysis of the past is not worthwhile. In the world of investing, the past is indeed no guarantee of what the future will look like. Nevertheless, we are convinced that it can give us interesting insights, which in turn are important when we make projections about the future, albeit with a dose of uncertainty.
To give you an idea of how these funds compare in terms of past performance, let’s put them all together:
As you can tell, there’s quite a significant difference with the Nasdaq-100 and S&P 500 outperforming the other ETFs. However, as mentioned above, companies in the United States, and in particular tech companies, have performed extremely well over the last 30 years. But will it continue for the next 30 years?
The role of bonds also becomes apparent in the graph. The yellow line for DBZB fluctuates significantly less than the others. This shows that bonds are a good option to stabilise your portfolio.
If you wish to dig deeper into why historical performance can help us understand our investments and build the right portfolio for long-term success, explore our article on understanding your portfolio of ETFs through Backtest.
We covered a few different ETFs for Belgian investors, and highlighted their pros and cons. We hope the list was helpful in making a choice! Whichever ETF you end up choosing, you’ve already made the right choice as they are a great investment that provide diversification at a fairly low cost.
However, it can be intimidating to get started investing through a broker. There are quite a few questions you need to answer before you can start:
- Which broker to choose?
- What is the right mix of stocks and bonds for you?
- Which mix of ETFs are best able to help you reach your goals?
- What are the tax implications for each ETF in your portfolio?
- … and more
If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, don’t hesitate to explore Curvo’s app. After all, our goal is to take care of all the complexities of good investing for you!
What you should do now
- Figure out if you want to invest in ETFs yourself. If you’re confident with your choice of ETF from the list above, then go for it!
- Choose the broker that works best for you. You can use our broker comparison tool which will help you decide on the cheapest option as a Belgian investor.
- Send money to your broker and hit that “Buy” button.
- Explore Curvo. See how it works, and download the app when you’re ready. When creating an account, you'll complete a short questionnaire to help us determine the best portfolio for you. You can then start investing from €50.