Investments are generally grouped into four main categories, or asset classes: equities, bonds, property and money market investments (including cash). There are also specialist and other types of investments, including commodities – that’s another word for things like gold, oil, minerals, etc.

Different types of investments behave in different ways

Each asset class has its own potential returns and risk. They have their own characteristics and react differently to factors such as world events, politics, economics and interest rate moves. Some are more volatile – their value rises and falls to a greater extent – than others.

So asset classes have different levels of risk and potential returns. As you can see below, there’s a trade-off - usually you have to take on more risk if you want to aim for higher returns.

Where to invest diagram

Asset classes

  • Money market instruments (incl. cash)
    Deposits with banks and building societies, governments and large corporations. Also includes investments that can have more risk and return than standard bank deposits.
  • Bonds
    Essentially loans to a government or company, often for a set time period and the bond owner usually receives regular interest payments.
    Learn more about Bonds
  • Property
    Direct investments in buildings and land, and indirect investments such as shares in property companies (property securities).
    Learn more about Property
  • Specialist
    Other investments that don't fit into one of the other asset class categories including direct and indirect investments in real assets like commodities (oil and precious metals). Also investments with specialist characteristics, such as absolute return investments that aim to have a positive return regardless of market conditions.
  • Equities
    Usually known as stocks or shares, equities are part ownership in a company.
    Learn more about Equities

How much should I invest in each asset class?

The amount you allocate to each asset class is known as asset allocation. If you invest in only one or two asset classes then you’re exposing yourself to quite a lot of risk. That’s why many people choose to invest in a variety of investments to achieve the best balance between risk and return – known as diversification.

But it can be difficult to build a truly diversified portfolio without the knowledge and tools available to professional investors. So, while it is possible to invest directly in the different asset classes, many people decide to invest via a ready-made diversified fund instead.

Investing through a fund

Investing through a fund means that your money is pooled with other people’s money. There are several reasons to consider doing this. You’ll get:

  • The opportunity to put your money into a wider range of investments than if you invested directly yourself
  • A professional fund manager deciding what to buy, based on what the fund is aiming to do
  • Lots of choice: as well as funds which invest in a selection of different asset classes and regions, there are others which invest in just one asset class or region
  • Potential for greater diversification – some funds not only diversify across traditional investments and regions, but also use more complex and sophisticated investment strategies that aren’t usually available to individual investors
  • To choose investments to suit how you feel about risk. Many funds are rated by how much risk they take, so you can make sure you don’t take more risk than you’re comfortable with

The value of the investments in any asset class can go down as well as up, and they may be worth less than you paid in - there aren't any guarantees.

The information contained here should not be regarded as financial advice. The right option for you will depend on individual circumstances.

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Read our guides

  • Equities

    Learn how equities can play an important role in investment portfolios

  • Bonds

    Understand how bonds can work when building an investment portfolio

  • Property

    Property investment offers diversity in investment portfolios, find out more