5 key financial terms explained

Do you nod along blankly when someone talks about unit trusts, or do your eyes glaze when you hear the word ‘annuity’? Do you wish investment terms weren’t so complicated or full of abbreviations?

It’s easy to get confounded by the use of financial jargon if you haven’t been trained in the financial services industry or been exposed to the world of investments before. But don’t let that put you off.

It’s just a question of learning the language, as you would try to speak German if you went to Berlin. No one is born with an innate knowledge of how to order in a Bavarian restaurant if you’re not from Germany; first you have to learn the vocabulary and then you need to experience it firsthand to cement your understanding.

So, to simplify matters and avoid any confusion, here is a quick explanation of five key terms that you’ll hear crop up again and again if you take an interest in your wealth management.

1. Dividend
A dividend is a portion of a company’s earnings that are distributed to shareholders. The dividends can take various forms but is most commonly a distribution in cash or as a portion of a share of the company. Furthermore, companies have their own policies as to when and how much of earnings are distributed in the form of dividends.

2. Bonds
There are many types of bonds, but in simple terms, a bond is a way of borrowing a sum of money – to be repaid by a fixed date in the future, with interest in the meantime. The buyers of bonds are essentially lenders, which means that if you buy a government savings bond, you become a lender to the federal government.

The interest rate received is often referred to as the bond’s yield, and is the compensation that the investor receives for ‘lending’ their hard-earned money. According to an article published by Investopedia, “bonds are often referred to as fixed-income securities because the borrower can anticipate the exact amount of cash they will have received if a bond is held until maturity.“

3. Annuity
An annuity is a type of investment account that uses retirement savings to generate a regular income stream after you retire.

There are two types of annuities – fixed and variable.

The key feature of a fixed annuity is that you enter into a contract with an insurer who subsequently guarantees a set income for life. This income is dependent on a number of factors such as your age, gender or whether the payment will be level or increasing. The annuity payment is guaranteed by the insurance company, so it is a good option for those who are risk averse (don’t like risk).

With a variable annuity, the risk of the investment is transferred to the annuitant in that his capital and subsequent annuity is dependent on market performance.

4. Unit Trusts (called Mutual Funds in the US and UK)
According to an article published by The Balance, a “mutual fund (unit trust) is a pooled portfolio. Investors buy shares or units in a trust and the money is invested by a professional portfolio manager” who invests the capital in an attempt to produce an income and capital gains (profit) for the investors. The pool of funds is collected from many investors who wish to invest in stocks, bonds and similar assets.

One of the main advantages of unit trusts is that it offers investment vehicles where small investors have access to diversified, professionally managed portfolios in which each shareholder participates (wins or loses) proportionally in the gain or loss of the fund.

5. Asset Allocation
In order to invest your money, you essentially need to give it to someone who will in theory use it to make a profit by working with your assets (invested money), and you then enjoy the profits from that. If they make a loss, you make a loss too. That’s the risk you take.

Asset allocation is therefore the process of deciding how much money, based on your appetite for risk and objectives, is invested in the different available asset classes – such as equities (stocks), real estate (land and property) or commodities (eg. gold and silver).

These are just five key terms in a lengthy glossary, but this summary serves to emphasise that if you’re ever unsure of anything, don’t continue with just a vague understanding. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about, so please do not hesitate to ask for clarification to ensure that you completely understand any terminology used and how it applies to your financial situation.

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