STI ETF Monthly Investment Plans Comparison – Why POEMS Share Builder Plan is Preferred?

Alvin Chow
Alvin Chow

This year, OCBC and POSB have each launched an STI ETF monthly investment plan. POEMS have the equivalent Share Builder Plan eons ago. I think the financial industry is finally moving in the right direction. It is hard to beat the market index and many fund managers have failed. It is hence better to create index funds and related products to the retail investors. It would be a much better deal.

These plans are largely similar except for one factor that distinguishes POEMS Share Builder Plan from the rest

Minimum Investment

POEMS used to set a minimum investment of S$200 per month. However, the minimum has been lowered to S$100 per month to remain on par with OCBC and POSB.

Underlying STI ETF

There are two STI ETFs listed on SGX. SPDR ETF has more than 10 years of history while Nikko AM STI ETF is 4 years old. SPDR is based in the US while Nikko AM is owned by DBS. There aren’t important differences between the two and investors do not need to fret about their choice.

Click Here For A Comprehensive Guide To the STI ETF

Some of the differences are

  • Lot size:
    • SPDR STI ETF at 1,000 per lot
    • Nikko AM STI ETF at 100 per lot
  • Fund fees:
    • SPDR STI ETF at 0.3% per year
    • Nikko AM STI ETF at 0.39% per year

For those who are more investment-savvy, I discussed tracking errors of STI ETFs previously.


Unlike POEMS and OCBC plans which allow you to redeem and sell part of your STI ETF holding, POSB only allows full redemption. In other words, if you have 5,000 Nikko AM STI ETF shares under the POSB plan, you have to redeem all 5,000 shares, either you sell all of them, or transfer the holdings to your CDP account*.

*Note: These monthly investment plans are all customised accounts. This means that POEMS, OCBC and POSB will hold the shares under their companies, and not in your CDP account. You need to pay an additional fee to transfer the shares to your CDP account. 


POSB charges a flat fee of 1%. It can be quite expensive if you invest a small sum each month under OCBC and POEMS since they have minimum charges. OCBC charges 0.3% or minimum $5. POEMS charges $6 for investment less than $1,000 per month. If you only invest $100 per month, your cost will be 6%! You need to invest at least $600 per month to be on par with POSB’s 1% charge.


STI ETF historically pays out about 3% dividends per year. POEMS is the only company that automatically reinvest the dividends into STI ETF in the following month. You have learned about the compounding effect is important to attain wealth. Reinvesting dividends is one of those ways to take advantage of this effect. When you start a monthly investment plan, you aim to do it for at least 5 years. Yes, POEMS is relatively more expensive but the compounding effect will dwarf the costs over the years. OCBC and POSB do not reinvest the dividends but distribute cash to your designated bank account.

Let me make it easy for you to decide. If you want to invest less than $600 per month, go for POSB. If you want to invest more than $600 per month, go for POEMS.

I have built a model for POEMS Share Builder Plan investing in STI ETF on a monthly basis and you can check the performance.

Learn more about STI ETF dividends too.

The table below summarises the comparison between the plans:

Comparison of STI ETF Monthly Plans 2013

To learn all about the STI-ETF and how you can use it to meet your investing goals, download our Comprehensive STI ETF Guide and read it at your convenience:

Alvin Chow
Alvin Chow
CEO of Dr Wealth. Built a business to empower DIY investors to make better investments. A believer of the Factor-based Investing approach and runs a Multi-Factor Portfolio that taps on the Value, Size, and Profitability Factors. Conducts the flagship Intelligent Investor Immersive program under Dr Wealth. An author of Secrets of Singapore Trading Gurus and Singapore Permanent Portfolio. Featured on various media such as MoneyFM 89.3, Kiss92, Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao. Given talks at events organised by SGX, DBS, CPF and many others.
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78 thoughts on “STI ETF Monthly Investment Plans Comparison – Why POEMS Share Builder Plan is Preferred?”

  1. Hi alvin, some time back, I did my own comparison of the above plans using data from 2009 onwards so that the nikko etf could be compared.

    I had ruled out posb becos they didn’t allow partial redemption and I assumed monthly contribution of $1.5k and above. Over the 2009 – 2013 period, returns from both poems and ocbc were very similar, with the ocbc plan having slightly higher returns.

    My back testing also took into consideration the dividend fee that Poems levy on investors, which your post didn’t mention. There is a way to reinvest the dividend for ocbc and posb plans, ie. by amending the instruction to the bank for monthly deduction amt after dividends are declared, do it for just 1 month, then amend back to original value. Investors just need to do this twice a year after dividend are declared, and at no extra cost.

    I agree it is not the most elegant solution, but at least it can be done to put all our monies to good use. Plus ocbc and posb don’t levy dividend fee on investors.

    Due to the differences in underlying etf and cost structures, in my own analysis, I found that selecting an appropriate rsp plan was not straightforward, and hence I found your post intriguing.

    On what basis then do you recommend poems ? Simply based on monthly costs ? Ease of reinvesting dividends ? Hope you can share your insights, thanks.


    • Hey Ben, thanks for doing the hard work and sharing in the comments.

      What you mentioned about my considerations were correct.

      First, cost effectiveness. That is why I chose POSB if the monthly amount is less than $500. OCBC and POEMS will be too expensive for any amount below $500. A rule of thumb is to limit the cost at max 1%.

      Second, reinvestment. The way to reinvest dividends under OCBC is manual. I prefer automation and hence, POEMS saves a lot of hassle. Maybe OCBC and POSB should consider adopting it too 😀

      Maybe you want to do an article on your research and findings, and publish here for everyone’s benefits?

  2. Hi Alvin,
    Since POEMs allows to build your monthly plan with up to 2 counters (same commission as 1 counter plan), what do you think if both Singtel and STI EFT are chosen? Pros and cons if Singtel is chosen. I chose Singtel because it’s one of the largest company in singapore and its dividend yield is high. Mind to share your thinking?

    • STI ETF already contains Singtel. I will still go with just STI ETF.

      Remember that STI embraces the concept of survival of the fittest. It is constantly reviewed and any company which is doing poorly and losing market capitalisation will be replaced by a better company. The recent example is NOL being replaced by Thai Bev.

      No one knows how long Singtel can be a market leader or a profitable business. But STI will definitely be around for a much longer time.

      If you are still not convinced, compare the Dow Jones components now and fifty years ago. Most of the components were replaced.

  3. Hi Alvin,

    Would you consider Standard Charted as a comparsion, though is a self entry by investor.

    The advantage is without min commission apply. ( flat rate 0.20% per order )

    • stand chart is okay too. the only problem is that u have to manually do it. most people wont have the discipline, especially when the market is volatile, they will be too afraid to buy. Hence, I prefer an automatic plan to take away the destructive emotional hindrance.

    • You need to increase the monthly investment by the dividend amount for the following month.

      After that amount is deducted, you can lower the monthly investment back to the original amount.

      It is troublesome and you need to do it twice a year.

  4. wow! your articles always manage to point out something that I don’t know/missed. For e.g. I hadn’t noted that POSB cannot be redeemed partially. Thanks 🙂

  5. Great article Alvin. Thanks for your sharing. Want to point out the Total Expense Ratio of Nikko AM is 0.39% while STI ETF is 0.3% a year according to their web-site

  6. Hi,

    Sorry I’m typing this in a hurry.

    The 1% dividend fee (cap at $50) can be quite substantial. It means a maximum of $100 a year. But of course, if you factor in expense ratio, you’re probably paying more to Nikko AM than the $100 to POEMS.

    Also, for POEMS, is the selling fee the same as normal brokerage fee (min ~$25 per transaction)? Just wondering, is POEMS (together with SPDR STI ETF) still the best choice throughout the lifetime of an investor (accumulation to withdrawal) when all costs are factored in? Compare that to say OCBC + Nikko AM STI ETF, with investment amount which would be larger than the min $5 commission (i.e. >= $1666.67), and with manual dividend reinvestment.

    Lastly, will I get an email when you reply to my post? Thanks.

  7. Yes, selling fees subjected to brokerage charges through POEMS.

    As I mentioned, I prefer automatic reinvestment of dividends right now. Leo also pointed out the expense ratio for Nikko STI ETF is at 0.39%, which is higher than SPDR’s 0.3%. This might have even out the dividend fee charged by POEMS. If you do a manual reinvestment under the OCBC plan, I would think that the results will be close but I need to run a test to confirm.

    You should get an email of this reply automatically 🙂

    • Thanks for the reply Alvin.

      I guess the approach for using POEMS SBP is to use POEMS SBP throughput accumulation, and when you stop adding/switch to withdrawal phase, transfer all to CDP so that you do not incur the dividend fee.

  8. I would like to use srs to do rsp in sti-etf but realised that only ocbc offers that. My srs account is with dbs. I understand that nikko am has a fund, my home fund growth, that invests mainly in sti etf. Do you know whether it is much more expensive to invest in nikko fund?

    • I am not sure if DBS can link your SRS account to POSB interest saver plan, which is a RSP investing in Nikko AM STI ETF.

      I do not think it is a problem.

      Nikko is slightly more expensive, 0.09% per year, than SPDR STI ETF. If I were you I won’t be too worried about that.

      • Hi, one should definitely be concerned about the ~0.1% difference in expense ratio. Throughout the investor’s lifetime, that is going to add up to a sizeable amount, especially as the portfolio size grows. It is more cost effective to pay more upfront “sales charge” (e.g. SBP’s min $10.70 fee) than recurring ~0.1% (of portfolio size) every year.

        • Sorry, to add on, i would still favour SPDR sti etf until nikkoam implements Total Expense Ratio of 0.30% or less. For now nikkoam’s expense ratio is unbounded and the cost is passed on to investors.

  9. Hi Alvin

    As a full time student, I cannot afford to spend even $500 a month to invest in ETFs – I’m assuming that you will be penalized if you don’t stick to your original plan? Or is this monthly amount flexible? Also, if the “benefit” of having such an automatic plan is that it takes away the destructive emotional hindrance as most people won’t have the discipline, especially when the market is volatile, they will be too afraid to buy, I feel that the extra charges are not worth it.

    After all, since returns are based on the underlying STI ETFs (i.e. SPDR and NikkoAM), it wouldn’t make a difference, right?

    I intend to invest for the long-term, and an investment plan with ETFs sounds nice and all, but when would you say is a good time to get out?

    • You can invest as low as $100 per month.

      Either SPDR or Nikko is fine.

      I think it is good to look beyond 5 years. If you can wait, it makes sense to exit when your friends start to talk about stocks who are usually disinterested.

  10. I checked with POSB, they do not allow you to transfer your shares to CDP unlike POEMS and OCBC.

    So the only way is to cash out

    • There are no custodian fees under the Sharebuilder Plan. But the following will be charged:

      Dividend Charges – 1% on net dividend subject to min S$1 capped at S$50

      Scrip Dividend $10

      Other Corporate action $10

      Share Transfer Charges – $10 per counter transfer fee charged by CDP and $10 per counter admin fee charged by Phillip Securities

      • hi Alvin, this is 4 years late but better late than never!

        “Dividend Charges – 1% on net dividend subject to min S$1 capped at S$50

        Scrip Dividend $10”

        while the figures may be small but it’s quite a turnoff to be charged as such. i think dividend charge is inevitable, but can we avoid the scrip dividend by getting POEMS to not reinvest our dividends (ie. we collect the dividend in cash). $10 charge seems quite hefty…

    • It is just an option which can come in handy.

      For example, you have accumulated about $50k in 5 years time and you can cash out $10k to pay for something, instead of withdrawing $50k.

  11. Seems like POSB allows partial redemption, not full.

    How do I redeem my holdings in POSB Invest Saver?
    You can redeem your holdings for the ABF Singapore Bond Index Fund and/or Nikko AM Singapore STI ETF through iBanking by following these steps:
    Step 1: Log onto your iBanking account
    Step 2: Click on “Investment & Trading” >> “Exchange Traded Fund Regular Savings Plan” >> “Redeem Exchange Traded Fund by Cash”
    Step 3: Select the Exchange Traded Fund that you wish to redeem and click on the “Continue” button
    Step 4: Input the number of units to redeem and select the account to credit your redemption proceeds.
    Step 5: Confirm and submit your order

  12. To me, the key advantage of the POEMS SBP over the OCBC BCIP is, it allows you to invest in 2 counters for $6 charge for amount $1000 monthly investment, while OCBC charges $5 for investments less than $1666.67.

    But I am a bit turned off by the dividend charge of 1% of net dividend capped at $50, min $1. Applies to other CA and script dividend. Thinking simplistically, so if my stock yields 4% dividend, it becomes 3% only because of the 1% charge.

    If you are only buying 1 counter, e.g. STI ETF, and dun mind the slight difference in expense ratio, OCBC’s BCIP and buying Nikko AM seems better to me. Reasons:

    1) Lower charges. For investment <$1001, POEMS charges $6, OCBC charges $5. For investment between $1001 to $5000, POEMS charges $10. OCBC charges $5 up to $1,667, and 0.3% for more than $1667. Cheaper than POEMS.
    2) No dividend charge for OCBC. If you wanna reinvest dividends you can manually increase the following month's investment for OCBC. I also believe in spreading out the reinvestment over a few months, to continue the "dollar cost averaging", instead of a lump sum investment in 1 month for POEMS. and the 1% dividend charge.

    • 1% dividend charge is not what you think it is. When ur yield is 3% and the charge is 1%, it doesn’t mean u r left with 2%. It means 1% of 3% which you will end up with 2.97%.

      I do not think going manual is the way. Most people are not disciplined enough or cared enough to plough back the dividends by themselves. I have the same reservations when someone tells me he is going to exercise every week without fail. Most won’t be disciplined enough.

  13. Hi there

    I’m thinking of starting this but just a few newbie concerns

    1) stanchart only charges 0.2% for each purchase, which is only $1 for $500 monthly. The difference in charges, will it be really worth it in the long run to automate reinvestment of dividends in comparison to doing it manually via SC’s low charges?

    2) What should be the optimum amount to invest monthly using POEMS SBP?

    3) how often do we transfer the shares to our CDP? is there a general rule for this? should we be afraid that something adverse happen to custodians?

    • 1) The problem of doing it manually is that one may stop investing in when the market is crashing down. The fear will stop a dollar averaging plan. it is easy to say we have the discipline when we are in the cold state. But when we are in a hot state, induced by the market volatility, we will be too fearful to act.

      2) More than $600

      3) Your custodian institution should be able to transfer the shares to your CDP account at a fee.

  14. Hi,
    Now POSB has this ABF SG Bond. Which I am in it as I believe we should balance our investment between bonds and equities. One thing that draws me to POSB is how simple it is to put say 60% to equities and 40% to SG government bonds, which OCBC and POEMS do not currently have. Been in it for over a year now, started from $200 to now $500 per month. Unless we do a Vanguard or other banks have similar bond investing, I think POSB is the way to go. What do you think? =)

    • Hi Julian, agree that STI ETF and ABF Bond ETF are a good pair. Definitely a more balanced investment portfolio than just pure STI ETF. And POSB is simple enough to facilitate the transactions. Stick to it!

      • Hi,
        Should someone saves in POSB plan, then reaches the age of retirement they’ll need to fully redeem the shares. What are your suggestions after that? Saying if the person would need to liquidate a monthly sum for retirement.

        • It is difficult to assess without knowing the capital invested, time horizon, as well as withdrawal amounts.

          Also, stocks are volatile and it would be disastrous when the market crashes and it is a time you need the withdrawals.

  15. There is an option to automatically re-invest your dividends from STI ETF with POSB now. I have just activated it. However couldn’t find any resources to confirm it. Can anyone confirm this?

    • I have done the same too.

      It can be found here once you log-in to POSB iBanking:

      Invest > More Investment Services > (under Manage Investments) Change Dividend or Maturity Instructions for Unit Trust or Exchange Traded Funds (ETF) > Reinvest (for Dividend Payout Instruction for the selected fund)

      No resources found so far too. I happen to stumble upon this option while navigating POSB iBanking.

  16. Hi Alvin,

    What’s your thoughts on DCA with ETF vs Permanent Portfolio as described in your other blogs?

    New investors usually have very little capital and would unlikely be able to start a PP. Thus could there be a hybrid approach to build up the capital and Equity portion (using DCA) and build up the balance of the PP (e.g. Bonds and Gold) when you have more capital later?

  17. Hello Alvin, I’m new to investments and ETF and would like to thank you for this very informative post! I noted from several websites that POSB invest savers doesn’t allow us to transfer the ETF holdings to our CDP account. May I know if it is important to have the option to transfer the holdings to CDP account? What are the benefits of having this option to transfer them to CDP account? Thanks a lot!

    • Holding your stocks in CDP reduces the institutional risk. If POSB ever get into trouble, your interest saver account may be jeopardised. The good thing about CDP is that you own the stocks directly under your name and no institution has a claim on it.

      The chances of POSB is remote and CDP is not foolproof either if Singapore goes to war or face other major calamities.

      Hence, it is not a very important consideration for me.

  18. Hi Alvin,
    Thanks for your very informative sharings. I am interested in using Stan Chart platform for investing in ETF via DIY. Do you think that since its held in custodial account, then there may be more cons than pros?

    • Custodial accounts have institutional risk but it is pretty unavoidable. Even if you subscribe to other monthly investment plans would also be custodial.
      What I do not like about Stand Chart is that it would be too manual. One might forget to buy, or not dare to buy when the market comes down. The overall returns would then be affected.

  19. In various articles, the qouted the annual returns are around 7% to 10% with dividends reinvested. ( eg Jul 2005 to Jun 2015 , annual return is 7.37% with dividend reinvested.

    However, in the article where you showed a sample Share Buidler Plan return , for the period of Jan 08 to Spe 2015, the annualised return was only 1.5%. This is worse that CPF savings return. It is the timing of the measurement of the return? If yes, so time of entering and exiting is still very important?

    • First, the period of assessment is different and hence the results will differ.

      Second, the annual returns you have seen in previous articles assumed that you invest one lump sum, hold it during the period, reinvest the dividends, and do not add or remove capital from the investment.

      The Share Builder Plan is a dollar cost averaging plan, where a fixed sum of capital is added to buy STI ETF each month.

      Lastly, we only know when is the low and high of the market after they have happened. Before that we will most likely get it wrong. So I would say do not try to time the market.

      • Hi Alvin – very useful post! Quick question on your spreadsheet for STI ETF DCA performance – is your selection of cells to calculate the average annual returns correct? The XRR appears to be selecting the monthly investment quantums of 500 rather than the returns.

  20. Hi Alvin,

    Great stuff!

    Just checking on any updates for your STI ETF performance? At the moment is POSB still the best choice for <S$500 monthly investment?

    Is there a crunch to compare monthly auto reinvestment and DIY performance assuming that the investor has the discipline to invest every month regardless of the market sentiment?

  21. Hello!

    Very informative post. What would you suggest if I am currently not able to commit >$600/month for POEMS but have intentions to do so? In other words, is it wise to start on POEMS for example $100/month and slowly increase the amount?

  22. Has POSB updated their scheme? It seems that you can redeem partial units right now. By the way, what is the reason for transferring holdings to CDP account from POSB invest saver, as opposed to redeeming?

    • I’m not sure. Best is to check with the customer service directly.

      Some investors may want to transfer the holdings to CDP because they do not want to sell the units. Redeeming means you are selling the units for cash.


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