Vanguard Robo Advisor Review

The Vanguard Group is the manager of one of the  world’s largest and hottest line-ups of mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs). In addition to traditional financial products, Vanguard Personal Advisor Services (PAS) was launched in 2015 to supply algorithmic and human investment advice for client funds placed at wholly-owned broker-dealer Vanguard Marketing Corporation (VMC). As of June 30, 2019, it held over $140 billion in assets under management.

Vanguard review:

Overall rating: 3.8/5

  • Minimum investment corpus in the account: $50,000
  • Fees: 0.30% of assets under management (excluding cash)

Of PAS applicants, 80% to 90% produce other Vanguard accounts, consistent with a spokesman, and entry requires $50,000 across all assets. The firm charges a 0.30% fee on the primary $5 million in assets, dropping to 0.20% between $5 million and $10 million.

Before setting up the account, the robo-advisor asks a series of  detailed questions regarding age, assets, retirement dates, risk tolerance, and market experience. Based on the customer’s response, it generates a proposed portfolio allocation crammed with Vanguard Funds and “other securities.” Most of the heavy lifting is completed by algorithms, but the new client must speak with a financial advisor to finish the customized plan during a cumbersome process which tends to take as long as a month.

The site provides a lot of resources to help with goal planning. These resources include checklists, how-to articles and calculators. Clients can utilise these incredibly useful tools to estimate their total costs of retirement, perform top-down reviews of assets and plan major life goals that include college savings. The Investing Education section is disappointing and infused with marketing pitches, but a well-populated blog covers a broad swath of monetary topics.

Vanguard began testing a replacement consulting service very quietly in mid-September 2019. It was based on the filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, this new offering was named the Vanguard Digital Advisor. It is a true robo-advisor which provides online financial planning tools to its users, helping them create a customized, goal-based budget. Vanguard Digital Advisor hasn’t been registered yet, so it’s not available for review, but the SEC filings have indicated that it’ll have a minimum account size of $3,000, while carrying a management fee of 0.15%. 

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of Vanguard Personal Advisor:


  • Can speak with financial advisor
  • Competitive management fee
  • Top-tier financial institution


  • Transaction costs not included
  • High account minimum
  • Lengthy setup process

Individual Ratings

Account setup – 3.2/5

The Vanguard PAS program is often tough to seek out because prospective clients are required to drill through the huge website, and locate the recommendation menu within the dedicated personal investor section. In addition, applicants might not understand that PAS is primarily an automatic investment advisory because they will talk with financial advisors at any time and marketing materials generally talk about “high-tech” rather than computer-driven investment.

New applicants provide detailed information detailing their financial situation, investment objectives, and willingness and skill to take some risks. A budget is then formulated, recommending an asset allocation which will be maintained within the account to satisfy long-term objectives. Lead recommendations are generally limited to low-fee Vanguard Funds.

The final investment plans are going to be created within a couple of weeks after the applicant consults by phone or video chat with a financial advisor, marking a serious negative compared to the rapid onboarding at the bulk of high-tech rivals. The client must comply with the new plan before implementation, adding another waiting period, and may request reasonable restrictions. New clients can usher in non-Vanguard assets and hold them within the portfolio, which is unusual within the robo-advisory space. In case of the non-Vanguard assets being liquidated, a brokerage commission is levied on the transaction.

The advisory agreement and other disclosures are easy to seek out and may be read beforehand, providing detailed information that’s missing within the sparse FAQ. An investment of $50,000 is required to fund and maintain the portfolio, including credit from other Vanguard accounts, and the portfolio can be established as a traditional individual retirement account (IRA), Roth IRA, individual taxable account, or joint taxable account. Vanguard PAS doesn’t support Uniform Gift to Minors Act (UGMA) or Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA) accounts.

Goal Setting: 4.4/5

A single account can consist of multiple goals and allocations. They can be associated with school planning, retirement, home ownership, a time period fund, or management of trust assets. Information from external accounts end up being enough to calculate financial needs through a Yodlee connection. The account interface also contains long-term forecasts and proposals to help coach clients with regards to meeting investment objectives, supported life situations and goals outlined during the lengthy onboarding process. The client can make changes at any time by altering the risk profile.

Accounts up to $500,000 are assigned to a gaggle of advisors, while accounts above that level get a fanatical advisor. The website features a powerful array of tools and calculators to assist clients in finding out what proportion of money must be put aside to succeed in goals within realistic time frames. Many of those resources specialise in retirement, but college planning and life assessment calculators are equally valuable in meeting long-term financial objectives.

Account Services: 3.5/5

Vanguard PAS clients can speak to a financial advisor at any time by scheduling a meeting. Advisors ask new clients to opt into an interest-bearing Spending Fund, with limits that focus on minimum and maximum cash held separately within the investment account. When the upper limit is exceeded, the automated management system buys additional securities and vice versa. Interest rates are competitive, between 2-3% , but client funds aren’t FDIC-insured

The policy that governs the client’s access to the portfolio is quite confusing and contradictory to read. One section talks about the client’s option to feature or remove securities after informing Vanguard, but another section warns, “You shouldn’t purchase or sell securities in your portfolio without prior assistance from an advisor and you’ll be restricted from such activity until you terminate the service.”

Deposits, recurring deposits, and withdrawals can be accomplished with a few clicks in the account management interface. 

Portfolio Content: 3.5/5

Vanguard PAS’ proprietary algorithm does the job of analyzing the client profile data and recommending an “investing track and corresponding approach path that embodies the danger tolerance, asset allocation, and time horizon suitable for your goals.” The output is similar to the categorization scheme offered by most rivals, subdividing portfolios into very conservative, conservative, moderate, aggressive, and really aggressive objectives. Allocations are fluid, changing to match the approach path trajectory, risk exposure, and time remaining for every goal.

Portfolio Management: 4.2/5

Vanguard PAS maintains a broadly diversified portfolio that has investments from a spread of market sectors and asset classes. The methodology follows traditional Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT) principles, emphasizing the advantages of low-cost securities, diversification, and indexing, driven by long-term financial goals. Similar to other robo-advisors, the system doesn’t base its decisions on market timing or short-term performance.

Stock and bond methodologies work towards increasing diversification. That is achieved by including equity funds at different capitalization and volatility levels. Also included are bond funds with different geographical, timing, and capital risks. Portfolio rebalancing is carried out every quarter. Tax-loss harvesting is done through the MinTax cost basis outlined within the program brochure, which must be opted into by the client at the time of enrollment.

User Experience: 3.7/5

Mobile Experience

The website is mobile-ready and easy to read. Vanguard provides an equivalent full-featured iOS and Android apps for all kinds of accounts, along with iPad and Kindle versions. Apps add a security layer through two-factor authentication while retaining nearly all account functions that are accessible through the online management interface. 

Desktop Experience

Finding the program can take a couple of clicks because Vanguard PAS consists of only one of multiple site offerings. A dedicated FAQ makes the work easier, but a more specifically dedicated site would be a much more useful and permanent solution. Program information is well-constructed. However, it is definitely quite brief and extremely focused on marketing. This forces clients to read the dense but well-written disclosures to explore investment methodology.

Customer Service: 3.4/5

PAS clients use a special telephone number which is different from what the rest of the Vanguard clientele uses. The customer service hours are listed from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM, Monday through Friday. Waiting times tended to be quite unacceptable, from over five minutes to more than 13 minutes. There’s no live chat for prospective or current clients, and registration is required to send an email through the firm’s secure message application. The bare-boned FAQ doesn’t address many logistical issues, forcing a radical review of the disclosures, agreements, and other fine print.

Education and Security: 3.5/5

The site uses 256-bit SSL encryption and provides two-factor authentication. The Vanguard Marketing Group holds the client funds and provides access to insurance from Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC). Cash is swept into money market funds that are not FDIC-insured. An Investing Education section is crammed with marketing pitches for Vanguard products, but a well-populated blog covers a broad swath of monetary topics.

Commission and Fees: 3.5/5

The Vanguard robo-advisor charges a competitive 0.30% advisory fee for the first $5 million that it manages. The charges are paid quarterly, and they drop to 0.20% for assets over $5 million. Clients who start their account with Vanguard PAS by transferring in non-Vanguard assets are required to pay a transaction fee in case those securities are liquidated. According to a Vanguard spokesperson, “These fees only apply to clients who enroll in the service with individual stocks or non-Vanguard funds that they, in consultation with their PAS advisors, choose not to sell—likely because of embedded capital gains. If they do ultimately sell, they would incur the same transaction costs as they would by placing a self-directed trade on their Vanguard Brokerage Account.” There are not any transaction fees assessed when buying or selling Vanguard’s ETFs. 

Vanguard Robo Advisor

The Vanguard Group is a famous American investment advisor. It is based in Malvern, Pennsylvania and has over $5.3 trillion in assets under management. It is the most important provider of mutual funds, the second-largest provider of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) of the world after BlackRock’s iShares. In addition to mutual funds and ETFs, Vanguard offers brokerage services, variable and glued annuities, educational account services, financial planning, asset management, and trust services.

Vanguard’s Founder and former chairman John C. Bogle has been credited with the creation of the primary mutual fund available to individual investors. He is also remembered for being a proponent and major enabler of low-cost investing by individuals. Vanguard is owned by the funds managed by the corporate, so it’s indirectly owned by its customers.Most of Vanguard’s funds are offered in two classes: investor shares and admiral shares. Admiral shares have slightly lower expense ratios but require a better minimum investment, often between $10,000 and $100,000 per fund.

Aside from its offerings of ETFs and Mutual Funds, Vanguard offers brokerage services, variable and glued annuities, educational account services, financial planning, asset management, and trust services. Several mutual funds managed by Vanguard are ranked at the highest of the list of mutual funds by assets under management.

Vanguard’s corporate headquarters are located in the Philadelphia suburb of Malvern. Vanguard has other offices in Charlotte, North Carolina and Scottsdale, Arizona. Outside North America, Vanguard also has offices in Australia, Asia, and Europe.

John C. Bogle, during his undergraduate thesis in 1951, conducted a study during which he found that the majority mutual funds didn’t earn any extra money than if they invested in broad stock exchange indexes. Even if the stocks within the funds beat the benchmark index, management fees reduced the returns to investors to far below the returns of the benchmark.

After Bogle graduated from Princeton University in 1951, he was hired by Wellington Management Company. In 1966, Bogle’s insistence resulted in a merger with a fund management group based in Boston. Bogle was appointed as the President of the firm in 1967 and he became the CEO in 1970. Unfortunately, the  merger didn’t end as intended and Bogle was fired from the firm. Bogle has said about being fired: “The great thing about that mistake, which was shameful and inexcusable and a reflection of immaturity and confidence beyond what the facts justified, was that I learned a lot. And if I had not been fired then, there would not have been a Vanguard.”

Bogle arranged to start out a replacement fund division at Wellington. He named it Vanguard, after Horatio Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of the Nile, HMS Vanguard. Wellington executives didn’t like the name in the beginning but approved it after Bogle mentioned that Vanguard funds would be listed alphabetically next to Wellington funds.

The Wellington executives prohibited the fund from engaging in advisory or fund management services. Bogle saw this as a chance to start out a passive fund tied to the performance of the S&P 500. Bogle was also inspired by Paul Samuelson, an economist who later won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, who wrote in an August 1976 column in Newsweek that retail investors needed a chance to take a position available in market indices like the S&P 500.

In 1976, after getting approval from the board of directors of Wellington, Bogle established the primary Index investment company (now called the Vanguard 500 Index Fund). It raised $11 million in its initial public offering, compared to expectations of raising $150 million. The banks that managed the general public offering suggested that Bogle cancel the fund thanks to the weak reception but Bogle refused. At this point, Vanguard had only three employees: Bogle and two analysts. Asset growth within the first years was slow, partially because the fund didn’t pay commissions to brokers who sold it, which was unusual at the time. Within a year, the fund had only grown to $17 million in assets, but one among the Wellington Funds that Vanguard was administering had to be merged in with another fund, and Bogle convinced Wellington to merge it in with the mutual fund. This brought assets up to almost $100 million.

Growth in assets accelerated after the start of the market in 1982, and other open-end fund companies began to repeat the indexing model. These copy funds weren’t successful since they typically charged high fees, which defeated the aim of index funds. In December 1986, Vanguard launched its second open-end fund, a bond mutual fund called the entire Bond Fund, which was the first bond mutual fund ever offered to individual investors. One earlier criticism of the primary mutual fund was that it had been only an index of the S&P 500. In December 1987, Vanguard launched its third fund, the Vanguard Extended Market Index Fund, an index fund of the entire stock market, excluding the S&P 500. Over the ensuing five years, other funds were launched, including a small cap mutual fund, a world stock market index fund, and a complete stock exchange mutual fund. During the 1990s, more funds were offered, and a number of other Vanguard funds, including the S&P 500 mutual fund and the total stock exchange fund, became among the most important funds in the world, and Vanguard became the most important open-end fund company on the planet. Noted investor John Neff retired as manager of Vanguard’s Windsor Fund in 1995, after a 30-year career in which his fund beat the returns of the S&P 500 index by a mean of 300 basis points per annum .

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