ETFs vs Index Funds

Discover the key differences between ETFs and Index Funds with our ultimate guide to making informed investment choices.
ETFs vs Index Funds
4 mins

Investing in the Indian financial market has evolved significantly over the years, offering a range of investment options beyond traditional investment choices. Two popular investment options that have gained prominence are index funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs). Both index funds and ETFs provide investors with opportunities to diversify their portfolios and gain exposure to a broad range of Indian assets. However, they differ in several key aspects. Let us explore the features and differences between index funds and ETFs.

Understand Index Funds

Index Fund meaning:

Index Funds resemble Mutual Funds in their investment approach, spreading investments across securities like shares, bonds, and commodities. Yet, they primarily align their trading activities with widely recognised indices such as NIFTY 50 or SENSEX 100.

Investors reap the advantages of investing in volatile shares with reduced risk since the index fund maintains that investments stay in line with the benchmark, regardless of market fluctuations.

Index Funds offer the potential for good returns and long-term wealth accumulation, thereby emerging as an increasingly favored passive investment choice among investors.

Investment Structure:

  • Index funds in India are traditional mutual funds that aim to replicate the performance of a specific stock market index, such as the Nifty 50 or the Sensex.
  • These funds are passively managed and typically aim to hold a portfolio of Indian securities that closely mirrors the index they track. The goal is to achieve returns that closely match the Indian index, and the fund's holdings are periodically adjusted to reflect changes in the underlying index.

Pricing and Trading:

  • Index funds in India are priced based on the net asset value (NAV) of the fund.
  • Investors can buy or sell index fund units at the fund's NAV, which is calculated at the close of the stock market.

Expense Ratios:

  • Index funds in India are known for their low expense ratios, making them cost-effective investment options.
  • Since they are passively managed and do not involve extensive research or trading, their fees are typically lower than actively managed Indian mutual funds.

Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs)

ETFs Meaning:

ETFs, or Exchange Traded Funds, are investment funds predominantly active in the intraday stock market, securing profits by day's end. They provide high transparency, providing investors precise insight into their investment allocations.

Similar to Index Funds, ETFs are subject to stock market dynamics, with transactions occurring in real-time. Various ETF types include industry, bond, currency, commodity, and inverse ETFs, among others.

Investment Structure:

  • An ETF is a type of investment fund that tracks a specific market index, similar to an index fund. However, unlike index funds, ETFs trade like stocks on an exchange throughout the trading day. This means that investors can buy and sell ETFs at any time during market hours.

Pricing and Trading:

  • ETFs in India are traded throughout the trading day, just like individual Indian stocks, allowing investors to buy or sell ETF units at prevailing market prices.
  • Prices may fluctuate based on supply and demand, and Indian investors can use limit orders to specify their purchase or sale prices.

Management Style:

  • ETFs in India can be passively managed, like index funds, or actively managed, where fund managers make investment decisions.
  • Passive Indian ETFs aim to closely track an index, while active ETFs involve active fund management to outperform the index.

Expense Ratios:

  • ETFs in India are known for their competitive expense ratios, which are typically lower than those of actively managed mutual funds.
  • Indian investors benefit from cost-efficient access to a diversified portfolio.

Key differences between Index Funds and ETFs

Now that we have examined the basics of index funds and ETFs in the Indian financial market, let us understand the key differences between Index Funds and ETFs: :


ETFs in India

Index Funds in India

Trading flexibility

ETFs offer greater trading flexibility, allowing buying and selling throughout the trading day at current market prices.

Index funds are priced once a day at the close of the Indian stock market.

Intraday trading

Indian ETFs permit intraday trading, enabling investors to capitalise on price fluctuations within the trading day.

Index funds lack the option for intraday trading, limiting investors to take advantage of intraday price movements.

Redemption process

ETFs can be bought and sold on the secondary market at market prices, offering flexibility in the redemption process.

Index funds can only be redeemed through the fund house at the applicable closing NAV, limiting redemption options.

Management styles

While both passive and actively managed options exist, Indian ETFs provide the choice of actively managed funds, allowing for diverse investment strategies.

Index funds predominantly follow a passive management style, while ETFs offer the flexibility of both passive and active management styles to suit investor preferences.


What index funds and ETFs have in common

Index funds and ETFs are two types of investment vehicles that bundle together many individual investments such as stocks or bonds into a single investment. They have become popular choices for investors for a few shared reasons. Both index funds and ETFs can help you create a well-diversified portfolio, are passively managed, and have strong long-term returns. Passively managed investments follow the ups and downs of the index they’re tracking, and these indexes have historically shown positive returns.

ETFs or Index funds - Which are better?

In India, both index funds and ETFs are gaining popularity among investors. Both index funds and ETFs offer investors exposure to a diversified portfolio of securities. While both types of investments track a specific market index, there are some key differences between them. Expense ratios for index funds are higher than those for ETFs because mutual funds require more hands-on management. Additionally, minimum investment amounts required for investing in an index fund are generally lower than those required for investing in an ETF. However, ETFs offer more trading flexibility than index funds since they trade like stocks on an exchange throughout the trading day.

The choice between index funds and ETFs depends on your investment objectives, trading preferences, and overall financial plan.


Both index funds and ETFs offer investors unique advantages and cater to different investment preferences. While index funds provide simplicity, stability, and cost-effectiveness for long-term investors, ETFs offer greater flexibility, intraday trading options, and potential for active management strategies. Ultimately, the choice between index funds and ETFs depends on individual goals, risk tolerance, and investment strategies. Whether seeking passive or active management, investors can leverage the benefits of both investment vehicles to build a diversified portfolio tailored to their financial objectives.

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Frequently asked questions

What is an ETF?

An ETF (Exchange Traded Fund) is a type of investment fund that is traded on stock exchanges, similar to stocks. It holds assets such as stocks, bonds, or commodities and aims to track the performance of a specific index.

What do Index Funds and ETFs Have in Common?

Index funds and ETFs both bundle together many individual investments such as stocks or bonds into a single investment. They have become popular choices for investors for a few shared reasons. Both index funds and ETFs can help you create a well-diversified portfolio, are passively managed, and have strong long-term returns.

Which is the safer option for investment between an Index fund and Exchange Traded Fund?

Both index funds and ETFs have similar risk profile, since they invest in well-established companies with a proven track record of performance. However, like all investments, they carry certain risks.

Is SIP possible in ETF?

Yes, SIP (Systematic Investment Plan) is possible in ETFs, allowing investors to regularly invest fixed amounts at predefined intervals, offering rupee-cost averaging benefits.

Why choose ETF over index?

Investors may choose ETFs over index funds for their intraday trading capabilities, lower expense ratios, and real-time pricing, providing greater flexibility in trading.

What are the disadvantages of ETF?

Disadvantages of ETFs include brokerage fees, potential tracking errors, and the need for a demat account, which may incur additional costs for investors.

Do ETF pay dividends?

ETFs can pay dividends to investors, with the frequency and amount determined by the underlying assets held within the ETF portfolio.

Are ETFs good for beginners?

While ETFs offer simplicity and diversification, they may not be ideal for beginners due to their intraday trading nature and potential for market volatility.

Is index fund good for beginners?

Index funds, with their passive management approach and simplicity, can be suitable for novice investors seeking long-term investment options with lower risk.

Are index funds tax free?

Index funds may offer tax efficiency, as they typically generate fewer capital gains due to their buy-and-hold strategy, potentially making them tax-efficient investment options.

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