What is the difference between "unités de compte" (often proposed in assurance-vies) and ETFs?

I don't see the difference when I read the definition on https://www.journaldunet.fr/patrimoine/guide-des-finances-personnelles/1201873-unites-de-compte-definition-en-finance (mirror):

Les unités de compte permettent d'investir de l'argent sur les marchés boursiers sans avoir besoin d'acquérir directement des actifs, qu'il s'agisse d'actions ou d'obligations. C'est un moyen efficace de diversifier son épargne tout en augmentant le rendement et en diminuant le risque de perte

Google translation:

The units of account make it possible to invest money on the stock markets without the need to directly acquire assets, be they stocks or bonds. It's an effective way to diversify your savings while increasing returns and reducing the risk of loss

I also couldn't find the translation of unités de compte in English, if it has one. https://www.journaldunet.fr/patrimoine/guide-des-finances-personnelles/1201873-unites-de-compte-definition-en-finance/ claims that the translation is "unit of account" but I couldn't find any financial product called "unit of account" on Google.

  • 1
    It definitely doesn't mean ETF because it applies to SICAV and UCITS funds. It appears to literally be the unit in which a holding is denominated (an investment share rather than a national currency such as Euro). The meaning would be that the return (in ordinary currency) is not guaranteed, but varies with market performance. But you'd need a French speaker to confirm this.
    – Ben Voigt
    Mar 2, 2019 at 21:52
  • I think this translation makes it understandable: translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=fr&u=https://…
    – Ben Voigt
    Mar 2, 2019 at 21:54
  • @BenVoigt Thank you, actually the links I mentioned the questions gave a pretty poor / misleading explanation of what a unité de compte is. I have added an answer that I think gave a clearer definition of unité de compte. Mar 3, 2019 at 22:01

2 Answers 2


The term unité de compte is specific to assurance-vies (which has very little to do with a typical non-French life insurance, that's why I keep the French term for it to avoid confusion).

As indicated on Wikipedia:

There are two types of assurance-vie contract in France:

  • contracts in euros a.k.a. monosupport: they are only invested in euro funds;
  • multi-support contracts, which include both a fund in euros and unités de compte.

The term unité de compte designates any financial product on a multi-support contract that isn't a euro fund. For example, if a multi-support assurance-vie contract contains ETFs, SCPI and SIVAC, those financial products can be all referred to as unités de compte.

Note: unlike what the Wikipedia quote above claims, there are more than two types of assurance-vie contract in France, but the other types are rarely used.


Exchange-traded funds (ETFs)* are specifically funds that are listed and traded on a stock exchange.

Other financial instruments may not necessarily be traded on a stock exchange. Traditional mutual funds, for instance, do not trade on stock exchanges.

Since "les unités de compte peuvent être en nombre non entier" (source) ("units of account(ing) may exist in non-whole numbers"), and exchange-traded securities do not trade in fractional units, then unités de compte are not exchange-traded. So they cannot be synonymous with ETFs.

But I don't even think unités de compte are an actual financial instrument like a mutual fund, but rather a construct like a stock market index ("indice boursier") that assign value to another financial instrument (a life insurance contract, in your example), similar to how many ETFs derive their value from a published stock market index.

* In French: Les fonds négociés en Bourse (FNB)

  • Thanks, turns out that ETFs can be referred to as unité de compte when hold within an assurance-vie. I tried to clarify that in my answer. Mar 3, 2019 at 22:35

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