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section header ETF fundamentals

subsection header Basics

How ETFs compare with mutual funds

ETFs and mutual funds serve the same general purpose.

They provide exposure to particular markets or market segments. So it's not surprising that they share more similarities than differences.


Similarities between ETFs and mutual funds


By pooling money from many investors, ETFs and mutual funds have greater buying power, enabling them to buy many different securities in large quantities. This results in greater diversification than an investor can achieve buying individual stocks. ETFs, like mutual funds, can also provide diversified exposure to virtually any segment of the market, in Canada and internationally.



Like mutual funds and other investments, ETFs in Canada are regulated by the securities commissions of each province or territory and are subject to the regulations set out in the various National Instruments, including National Instrument 81-102, and those within the broader provincial Securities Acts. In addition to governmental oversight, dealers who sell ETFs are regulated by the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada (IIROC). Learn more about how ETFs are regulated


Compared with actively managed funds, index ETFs and index mutual funds are extremely transparent. Investors know what the holdings are and in what proportion based upon the target index, particularly when a full replication strategy is used to track the index. Learn more about index ETFs


Differences between ETFs and mutual funds

Trading flexibility

ETFs offer additional trading flexibility when compared with mutual funds. Orders to buy or sell ETF units are executed throughout the trading day at market-determined prices that change continually. ETFs can also be traded at the day's calculated net asset value (NAV). By contrast, mutual fund shares may only be purchased or redeemed at their NAV, which is struck once a day. Typically, this is the end-of-day price in the relevant market. Learn more about common order types


Automatic investing flexibility

While ETFs offer more trading flexibility, mutual funds offer more flexibility when it comes to automatic investing services. Mutual funds typically provide automatic investing and withdrawal services that link directly to investors' bank accounts, services that ETFs typically do not provide.



Both ETFs and mutual funds charge a management expense ratio (MER) which essentially covers ongoing operating costs. ETFs generally have lower MERs than mutual funds, but because ETFs trade on exchanges, they also have unique costs not associated with mutual funds, such as broker commissions or bid-ask spreads. Learn more about the costs of ETFs.

Comparing ETFs and mutual funds



Mutual funds


Shares bought and sold on an exchange or over the counter through a stockbroker, platform offering brokerage services, or a market maker.

Shares bought and sold directly through the fund company or through a fund distributor.



Share prices set by the market throughout the trading day; net asset value based on official closing prices.

Net asset values determined once per trading day, based on official closing prices, after financial markets close.

Minimum trade size

One share


Transaction costs

Brokerage commissions and bid-ask spreads on each direct purchase and sale.

Sales charge (for most funds), entry/exit charges or swing prices.


Learn about the different types of exchange-traded products, how index and active ETFs are managed and more.


Learn about ETF trading, common order types, premiums and discounts, liquidity considerations and more.


Learn about strategic and tactical uses for ETFs, including asset and sub-asset allocation, portfolio completion, cash equitization and more.

Commissions, management fees, and expenses all may be associated with investment funds. Investment objectives, risks, fees, expenses, and other important information are contained in the prospectus; please read it before investing. Investment funds are not guaranteed, their values change frequently, and past performance may not be repeated. Vanguard funds are managed by Vanguard Investments Canada Inc. and are available across Canada through registered dealers.

This material is for informational purposes only. This material is not intended to be relied upon as research, investment, or tax advice and is not an implied or express recommendation, offer or solicitation to buy or sell any security or to adopt any particular investment or portfolio strategy. Any views and opinions expressed do not take into account the particular investment objectives, needs, restrictions and circumstances of a specific investor and, thus, should not be used as the basis of any specific investment recommendation. Investors should consult a financial and/or tax advisor for financial and/or tax information applicable to their specific situation.

All investment funds, including those that seek to track an index are subject to risk, including the possible loss of principal. Diversification does not ensure a profit or protect against a loss in a declining market. While the Vanguard ETFs are designed to be as diversified as the original indices they seek to track and can provide greater diversification than an individual investor may achieve independently, any given ETF may not be a diversified investment.

All monetary figures are expressed in Canadian dollars unless otherwise noted.