Our bottom line
For most ordinary investors, AJ Bell’s Stocks and Shares ISA seems an excellent all-rounder. It’s low cost, with access to a wide range of markets. The fees are simple to understand. However, its research tools are very basic; advanced traders should probably look elsewhere. The £9.95 commissions are also too high for frequent trading.
Top feature of AJ Bell’s Stocks and Shares ISA
AJ Bell’s ‘Portfolio X-Ray’ gives you an instant, visual overview of your holdings. Your shares’ sectors and international exposure are presented on charts and maps. It also ranks your top performing investments, and offers new insights into your investing style.
AJ Bell’s commission prices
Share deals cost £9.95 each. This is about average, and for long-term investors shouldn’t be a deal breaker.
Shares in Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Japan or Singapore must be ordered over the phone. This costs £29.95 per trade. These markets also have a £10,000 minimum investment, putting them out of reach for smaller investors.
You can, however, reduce your commissions to just £1.50 with a regular savings plan of £25 per month. Commissions are also reduced to £4.95 if you placed 10+ trades the previous month.
Fees you should know about
AJ Bell’s annual fee is 0.25% of your shares’ value – capped at £3.50 per month. Funds are charged at the same rate, but without the £3.50 cap. Platform fees are reduced on balances over £250,000.
There are no charges on cash holdings.
If you’re holding funds, you also have management fees to consider. These are typically around 0.35%.
Foreign investments have a 1% currency exchange fee.
Buying shares, ETFs and funds with an AJ Bell Stocks and Shares ISA
Beginners will have no trouble placing orders with AJ Bell.
Select ‘Buy and Sell Shares’ from your account menu. A simple order form shows your cash balance. You can purchase shares by quantity or value.
Its funds are effortless to navigate – broken into three broad categories. These are ‘Growth’ and ‘Income.’ Also, a ‘Responsible Growth’ category, avoiding controversial sectors like tobacco, gambling and fossil fuels.
Afterwards, a second set of options help you choose a fund based on your risk tolerance.
AJ Bell’s funds are very low cost – typically around 0.35%. Most likely it’s because they hold Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs). These are easier to manage than individual shares.
AJ Bell’s Stocks and Shares ISA platform
AJ Bell has a free mobile app, available on iOS and android.
Its dashboard is easy to navigate. You’re presented with a list of your current holdings. A quick-read pie chart shows breaks down your investments by sector.
You also have a handy counter keeping track of your ISA deposits. You know how much room you have before the tax year ends.
On your shares list, an ‘R’ and ‘D’ column tells you which are set up for ‘Regular’ investments or ‘Dividend’ reinvestments.
Unlike some platforms, you don’t have to set a blanket rule that applies to your whole account. Select individual holdings for automatic investments. It only takes a few clicks.
AJ Bell’s research offerings
Research is the platform’s biggest weakness.
For individual shares, you do get the usual financial sheets and newsfeeds. There’s also a simple interactive chart with basic technical analysis tools.
However, it’s all available free elsewhere.
Not to come across too harsh, one excellent perk is the free subscription to Shares magazine. It’s available to account holders with a £4,000+ balance.
Since this normally costs £125 per year, it’s an admirable saving. And your Shares magazine has the deeper commentary that AJ Bell’s platform lacks.
Things to watch out for
If you’re new to investing, AJ Bell’s funds are your best reason to open an account. They’re easy to navigate, simple to understand and reasonably priced.
However, do check the fact sheets before you order. Pay attention to where each fund is invested. They’re mostly holding other Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs). These are funds managed by outside companies, available to buy on the markets like ordinary stock.
For example, AJ Bell’s ‘Global Growth’ fund holds the iShares Core FTSE 100 ETF. As I write this, it’s almost 17% of the total portfolio. While the Global Growth Fund costs 0.34% per year, the iShares FTSE 100 is only 0.07% – almost five times less.
Just to be clear, this is not a “gotcha” criticism. If you want a broad basket of funds, AJ Bell’s options may still be your cheapest. However, if you’re a little more specific with where you want to invest, you’d likely save money holding ETFs.
Service and support
AJ Bell’s customer support is open 8am-7pm, Monday to Friday. Its Saturday hours are 10am-2pm.
The help centre is UK based, easy to reach by phone, email or web chat.
On Trustpilot, AJ Bell scores 4/5 stars. 79% rate it Excellent or Great. Compared to its peers, these are relatively high marks.
Is an AJ Bell Stocks and Shares ISA right for you?
AJ Bell looks like an excellent all-rounder. The platform is easy for beginners. The costs are fair and transparent. If you’re an ordinary buy-and-hold investor, this lets you hold shares in an ISA with minimal hassle.
Its basic research tools may be a problem for sophisticated traders, though. At £9.95, its commissions would also weigh on the frequent trader’s account.