Unit Trust (UT): Structure, Benefits, and Real-World Scenarios


A unit trust, also known as a UT, is a type of unincorporated mutual fund structure that offers investors a way to access diversified portfolios of assets, including stocks, bonds, and cash equivalents. Unlike traditional mutual funds, unit trusts distribute profits directly to individual unit owners instead of reinvesting them into the fund. In this comprehensive article, we will delve deeper into the world of unit trusts, exploring their structure, benefits, drawbacks, and how they differ from mutual funds.

What is a unit trust (UT)?

A unit trust, often abbreviated as UT, is a financial investment vehicle that operates under a trust deed. This investment structure allows multiple investors to pool their money, which is then used by a professional fund manager to invest in a diversified portfolio of assets. Unit trusts are unique in that they pass profits directly to individual unit owners rather than reinvesting them into the fund itself.

Key takeaways

  • Unit trusts distribute profits directly to investors.
  • They are similar to mutual funds but have specific characteristics.
  • Fund managers oversee the investments within a unit trust.

Understanding unit trusts (UTs)

A unit trust is essentially a collective investment scheme where a fund manager makes investment decisions on behalf of investors. These funds can invest in various types of assets, including stocks, bonds, real estate, and cash equivalents. To participate in a unit trust, investors purchase units, and the value of their investment is determined by the performance of the underlying assets.

Unit trust structures are available in several countries, including Guernsey, Jersey, Fiji, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Namibia, Kenya, Singapore, South Africa, the U.K., the Isle of Man, and Malaysia. In many Asian countries, a unit trust is equivalent to a mutual fund. In Canada, these types of investments are referred to as income trusts.

Managing a unit trust

Fund managers play a crucial role in directing the portfolio of unit trusts. They are responsible for making investment decisions in line with the fund’s objectives and goals. Trustees are appointed to ensure that the fund manager operates the trust according to its stated rules and in the best interest of the beneficiaries. Unit trust investors are commonly known as unit-holders, and they hold rights to the assets within the trust. Registrars act as intermediaries between the investors and the fund manager.

How unit trusts make money

The profitability of a unit trust is directly related to the value of the assets it holds. The value of each unit in the trust is determined by dividing the fund’s net asset value (NAV) by the total number of units outstanding. However, investors should be aware of transaction fees, management fees, and associated costs, which can affect their returns.

Unit trusts offer the flexibility for new contributions and withdrawals. When investors add money to the trust, additional units are created to match the current unit purchase price. Conversely, when investors withdraw units, assets are sold to match the prevailing unit selling price.

Fund managers generate revenue through the difference between the buying price (offer price) and the selling price (bid price) of units. This price difference is known as the bid-offer spread and can vary based on the types of assets managed within the trust.

Advantages and disadvantages of a unit trust

Weigh the risks and benefits

Here is a list of the benefits and drawbacks to consider.

  • Managed by a financial professional
  • One unit includes investments in a diversified portfolio
  • No obligation or fixed investment term required
  • Performance of the trust depends on the fund manager
  • Management Fees
  • Principal investment is not guaranteed

Like any investment, unit trusts come with their own set of advantages and disadvantages. Investors benefit from professional management, diversification, and flexibility, but they also face the risk of poor performance and management fees.

How do unit trusts differ from mutual funds?

Mutual funds and unit trusts share similarities, but they have distinct characteristics. While both investment vehicles allow investors to access diversified portfolios, unit trusts are established under trust deeds, making the investor the effective beneficiary. In contrast, mutual funds are structured differently, and investors are shareholders in the fund.

What is the risk of investing in a unit trust?

Investing in a unit trust carries inherent risks, as with any investment. The value of units or income may decrease, and investors’ principal amounts are not guaranteed. It’s important for investors to assess their risk tolerance and carefully consider their investment choices.

How do investors withdraw money from a unit trust?

Investors can exit a unit trust by selling their units at the bid price. To realize a profit, the bid price must be higher than the initial offer price paid for the units. It’s crucial for investors to monitor market conditions and unit prices when making withdrawal decisions.

Examples of unit trust investments

Unit trusts offer investors the opportunity to access a wide range of assets and investment strategies. Here are some examples of how unit trusts can be used in various investment scenarios:

Diversified portfolio unit trust

Imagine an investor, Sarah, who wants to build a diversified investment portfolio without the hassle of purchasing individual stocks and bonds. She decides to invest in a diversified portfolio unit trust. In this case, the unit trust pools funds from multiple investors and allocates them across various asset classes, including stocks, bonds, and cash equivalents. Sarah purchases units of this trust, which gives her exposure to a diversified range of investments. This strategy helps spread risk and provides the potential for long-term growth.

Income-oriented unit trust

John, a retiree, seeks a steady stream of income from his investments to support his retirement lifestyle. He chooses to invest in an income-oriented unit trust. This type of unit trust focuses on income-generating assets, such as dividend-paying stocks and bonds. The trust distributes regular income payments to unit-holders, providing John with a reliable source of income to cover his living expenses during retirement.

Unit trusts vs. exchange-traded funds (ETFs)

Unit trusts and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are both popular investment vehicles, but they have distinct differences. Understanding these differences can help investors make informed decisions:

Active management vs. passive management

One key distinction between unit trusts and ETFs lies in their management styles. Unit trusts are typically actively managed, meaning a professional fund manager actively selects and manages the underlying assets. This approach aims to outperform the market. On the other hand, ETFs are usually passively managed, tracking a specific index or benchmark. Passive management often results in lower management fees for ETFs, making them attractive to cost-conscious investors.

Liquidity and trading

Unit trusts and ETFs also differ in terms of liquidity and trading. Unit trusts are priced once a day, at the end of the trading day, based on the net asset value (NAV). Investors can buy or sell units at this price. ETFs, on the other hand, trade on stock exchanges throughout the trading day at market prices, just like individual stocks. This provides investors with intraday liquidity and the ability to use various trading strategies, such as limit orders and stop-loss orders.

Choosing the right unit trust

Investors should carefully consider their financial goals and risk tolerance when selecting a unit trust. Here are some factors to keep in mind:

Investment objective

Start by defining your investment objectives. Are you looking for long-term growth, income, or a combination of both? Different unit trusts cater to specific objectives, so choose one that aligns with your goals.

Risk tolerance

Assess your risk tolerance honestly. If you’re uncomfortable with market volatility, consider lower-risk unit trusts that focus on income generation and capital preservation. For those willing to take on more risk for potentially higher returns, growth-oriented unit trusts may be suitable.

Fund manager reputation

Research the reputation and track record of the fund manager. A skilled and experienced fund manager can play a significant role in the performance of the unit trust.

Costs and fees

Examine the total costs associated with the unit trust, including management fees and any other charges. Lower-cost options can have a positive impact on your overall returns.

The bottom line

In summary, a unit trust, abbreviated as UT, is a type of unincorporated mutual fund structure that holds assets and distributes profits directly to individual unit owners. These investment vehicles offer investors access to diversified portfolios managed by financial professionals. However, like all investments, unit trusts come with their own set of advantages and disadvantages, and investors should carefully assess their suitability based on their financial goals and risk tolerance.

Frequently Asked Questions

How are unit trust profits taxed?

Unit trust profits may be subject to taxation, and the rules can vary by country. In many cases, the tax treatment depends on whether the profits are considered capital gains or income. It’s important for investors to understand their local tax laws and consult with a tax advisor for guidance on tax implications related to unit trust investments.

Can I switch between different unit trusts?

Yes, many unit trusts offer the flexibility for investors to switch their investments between different funds offered by the same fund management company. This allows investors to adjust their investment strategy based on changing financial goals or market conditions. However, switching may be subject to fees and tax considerations, so it’s essential to review the terms and costs associated with switching.

What is the minimum investment required for a unit trust?

The minimum investment required for a unit trust can vary depending on the specific fund and fund management company. Some unit trusts may have low minimum investment requirements, making them accessible to a broad range of investors, while others may have higher minimums. Investors should check the fund’s prospectus or contact the fund management company to determine the minimum investment amount.

Are unit trusts suitable for retirement savings?

Unit trusts can be suitable for retirement savings, depending on an individual’s financial goals and risk tolerance. Income-oriented unit trusts, for example, can provide a reliable source of income during retirement. However, it’s crucial to assess whether unit trusts align with your long-term retirement objectives and consider other retirement investment options, such as retirement accounts or pension plans.

What should I consider when comparing different unit trusts?

When comparing different unit trusts, investors should consider factors such as the fund’s investment objectives, historical performance, fund manager’s track record, fees and expenses, and the level of risk associated with the fund’s investments. Additionally, investors should assess how the unit trust fits into their overall investment portfolio and financial goals to make an informed decision.

Can I invest in unit trusts through a retirement account?

Yes, in many countries, investors can include unit trusts in their retirement accounts, such as Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) or Self-Invested Personal Pensions (SIPPs). Investing in unit trusts through a retirement account may offer tax advantages and help individuals save for retirement. However, it’s essential to confirm whether the specific unit trust is eligible for inclusion in retirement accounts and understand the tax implications associated with such investments.

Key takeaways

  • Unit trusts distribute profits directly to investors.
  • Professional fund managers oversee unit trust investments.
  • Investors should carefully assess the advantages and disadvantages of unit trusts.
View article sources
  2. Mutual Funds – Investor.gov
  3. Units trusts held in general investment account and tax – HMRC Community