How to Build an Investment Portfolio (for Beginners)

Now that you have understood the science of diversification, this article will explain how to put these principles into practice by explaining how to build an investment portfolio.

If you have read the previous articles, the following steps should feel like common sense. Indeed this article threads together many of the concepts from the Foundation learning series.

How to build an investment portfolio

Step 1: Understand your time horizon

Review your personal circumstances and decide how long you will be able to tie up your funds in investments. Consult against the guidelines provided in our earlier article ‘What is an investment time horizon‘, to discover whether any investment classes, such as equities, are not appropriate for a period as short as yours.

Step 2: Understand your risk profile

Our ‘Attitude to risk questionnaire‘ will indicate whether you have the tolerance which suits high-risk investments or whether you would be more comfortable with a lower risk portfolio. You will live with your portfolio for many years, therefore it’s important that you are compatible with it.

Step 3: Choose a high-level asset allocation

A portfolio doesn’t need many different asset classes to be effective. Many investors opt for the following example allocations as a starting point:

Example Asset Allocation: Adventurous Investor

  • 80% Equities | 20% Bonds
  • 60% Equities | 20% Property | 20% Bonds
  • 60% Equities | 15% Property | 15% Bonds | 10% Cash

Example Asset Allocation: Balanced Investor

  • 60% Equities | 40% Bonds
  • 45% Equities | 10% Property | 40% Bonds
  • 45% Equities | 10% Property | 30% Bonds | 10% Cash

Example Asset Allocation: Cautious Investor

  • 40% Equities | 60% Bonds
  • 27.5% Equities | 7.5% Property | 70% Bonds
  • 25% Equities | 5% Property | 50% Bonds | 20% Cash

Example Asset Allocation: Risk Adverse

  • 20% Equities | 80% Bonds
  • 10% Equities | 10% Property | 50% Bonds | 30% Cash

These are completely flexible and can be tailored to your preferences. The logic which drives these profiles is that higher equity is higher risk. The higher the bond & cash proportion, the lower the overall risk.

Step 3 minimises the systematic risk experienced by your portfolio as a whole.

Step 4: Choose a sub-asset class allocation

Create a detailed list of what asset sub-classes you want to hold in your asset classes. Refer to the table in the earlier section for sub-class examples.

This step is just as important as step 3. A 40% allocation to ‘equities’ could generate more risk than a 60% allocation to equities if the sub-asset classes chosen were inherently riskier (such as investing in emerging markets equities).

Therefore, consideration of your risk profile is needed when determining how to sub-allocate. We will use the example of equities to show different risk levels:


Sub-Allocation of Equities: Adventurous Investor

  • 30% UK Large Cap*, 20% UK Small Cap*, 30% Worldwide**, 20% Emerging Markets

Sub-Allocation of Equities: Balanced Investor

  • 50% UK Large Cap, 10% UK Small Cap, 30% Worldwide, 10% Emerging Markets

Sub-Allocation of Equities: Cautious Investor

  • 70% UK Large Cap, 20% UK Small Cap, 30% Worldwide

Sub-Allocation of Equities: Risk Adverse

  • 70% UK Large Cap, 30% Worldwide

*Large cap is short for large market capitalisation (i.e. company value), therefore refers to the FTSE 100 index of companies. Whereas Small cap refers to small companies which form the FTSE 250 index of companies.

**Worldwide refers to large cap companies in developed countries, excluding the UK.

As the risk levels reduce, the proportion of weighting to UK increases (given that the UK is a relatively stable country relative to the average, and this reduces foreign currency risk). Exposure to emerging markets and smaller listed companies reduce as these are the higher risk equity categories.

For corporate bonds, higher risk portfolios may include ‘junk bonds’ (bonds with lower credit ratings and therefore higher yields) and corporate bonds from emerging markets. More cautious portfolios will give a higher weighting to government bonds and high-grade corporate bonds.

Choosing your sub-asset allocation is the most difficult and judgemental aspect of how to build an investment portfolio. Therefore, please take your time at this stage to conduct thorough research.

Step 5: Choose an investing method – Funds versus individual holdings

Our article ‘How to invest in shares and the stock market‘ lists the pros and cons of each investment approach. You will not be able to choose a useful stockbroker or investment service without first understanding your needs.

Step 6: Choose a stockbroker or investment service

This is a difficult step due to the massive choice between different providers offering different services and charging different fees. Examples of popular stockbrokers include Vanguard, Hargreaves Lansdown, Interactive Investor and Halifax.

You should be actively reducing your investing costs by seeking low fees.

Step 7: Pick a fund or research individual companies within each sub-asset class.

At Financial Expert, we enthusiastically recommend taking the fund route over individual shares.

The reasons include; lower cost, ease & convenience, instant diversification, and access to some investments that would be otherwise very difficult to access as a retail investor.

Vanguard offers a range of funds with low management charges (less than 0.3% per year) in most common sub-asset classes. I personally use Vanguard. Here are some equity funds offered by Vanguard that match up to the sub-classes discussed above, and which all contain over 20 holdings.

I encourage you to look research Vanguard and their funds before you look elsewhere so that at least you have their funds as a strong comparison and benchmark.

Picking specific funds is a huge topic which we cannot hope to cover in this overview article. Please explore our other Foundation and Intermediate topics for further information. Check out how to spot investment scams to learn about red flags and methods of checking the legitimacy of investments.

Step 8: Deposit funds and invest!

The final exciting step is to transfer money into your investment platform from your bank account to begin your investing journey.

Our article ‘How to invest in shares and the stock market‘ takes you step by step through the information you will need to execute a share purchase. Buying funds is even more straight forward.

Now you’ve read these 8 steps, you will now understand how to build an investment portfolio! If you have landed on this article, please ensure you check out all the Foundation level articles on this topic.

Learning Summary

How to Build an Investment Portfolio (For Beginners)

Understand your time horizon. If you can only lock money away for less than five years, then shares and other long term investments will not be a good fit.

Understand your risk profile. You need to be comfortable with the level of risk and the volatility that your portfolio might experience.

Choose a high-level asset allocation. Higher risk strategies use more equities and property. Lower risk portfolio's include more bonds and cash.

Design your sub-asset allocation. Divide your asset classes further by regions or by industry. This way, you will ensure that each asset class is as broad as possible.

Choose an investing method. Will you create your portfolio using lots of individual shareholdings and bonds, or will you use funds to quickly access instant diversification?

A saver who can invest £250 per month for 30 years, will likely earn £100,000+ more if they invest it in the stock market rather than a savings account. A life-changing amount of money is at stake.

Research individuals funds and shares to build your portfolio. If you are investing directly, you will want to ensure you have more than 20 individual holdings per asset class. If you are researching funds, stick to index-tracking funds with low fees.

Deposit funds and place your first trade!

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Before you move on, please leave a comment below to share your thoughts. What mix of assets do you think will give you the right balance of risk and reward? Have you included any alternative investments in your portfolio?

This article is part of the Foundation Investing Course created by Financial Expert

This is a free investing course about mastering the principles of investing and building a portfolio from scratch. Designed for target returns of 6% per year.

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