You're not alone if you're overwhelmed with the task of managing your own investments.
Vanguard, as one of the most popular brokerages, is part of a growing trend across the financial industry of large investment brokerage firms offering their own robo-advisor services.
It gives you an opportunity to invest with the firm on a self-directed basis, but also with an opportunity to have at least some of your portfolio professionally managed by the robo-advisor service.
Your favorite investment firm could also help you with automated investing.
Find out if it is a good fit for your investment approach.
Vanguard Personal Advisor Service is Great for…
- Those who like contact with financial advisors, along with a robo-advisor service.
- Investors who are partial to Vanguard funds.
- You prefer to invest in funds with very low average expense ratios.
- Investors with larger investment portfolios.
Benefits of Using a Robo-Advisor
Here's the deal:
The main benefit of using a robo-advisor is to have a professionally managed investment portfolio, with all the features typically found in those managed by traditional human investment managers.
In that regard, the biggest advantage is cost.
Traditional human investment advisors manage portfolios for fees of between 1% and 1.5% of assets under management.
For example, they charge a fee of 1.5%, and if you have $200,000 invested, the annual fee will be $3,000.
The advisory fee for robo-advisors is just a fraction of that.
For example, if a robo-advisor charges a fee of 0.30% of your assets under management, the cost to manage the same $200,000 portfolio will be just $600 per year.
That lower fee can be substantial in terms of long-term investment return.
If both a traditional investment manager and a robo-advisor can produce an annual average rate of return of 8% on your portfolio, your portfolio will look like this after 20 years:
- Traditional investment advisor. Annual advisory fee, 1.50%. Net annual rate of return on investment, 6.50% (8%, minus the 1.5% advisory fee). After 20 years, your $200,000 will grow to $704,728.
- Robo-advisor. Annual advisory fee, 0.30%. Net annual rate of return on investment, 7.70% (8%, minus the 0.30% advisory fee). After 20 years, your $200,000 will grow to $881,748.
The difference between the two services over 20 years is more than $177,000.
And it’s entirely the result of a much lower investment advisory fee.
How Vanguard Personal Advisor Services Works
Vanguard Personal Advisor works similar to other robo-advisors.
When you set up your account, you complete a brief questionnaire, that determines your risk tolerance.
The asset allocation in your portfolio will be constructed based on the results of that questionnaire.
Your account is invested in a mix of low-cost ETFs, as well as actively managed mutual funds. This is something of a departure from most robo-advisors, since mutual funds attempt to outperform the general market.
Most robo-advisors attempt only to match the market, by investing strictly in index funds.
And naturally, since Vanguard is a fund company, your portfolio will be invested in funds sponsored by the company.
To open an account, you need a minimum of $50,000, which is much higher than the norm for the industry. But they do offer access to financial advisors when needed.
And for higher portfolio balances – $500,000 and higher – you’ll have a dedicated personal advisor.
The sign-up process for Vanguard Personal Advisor takes place entirely online. You can complete the application in just a few minutes. It’s a five-step process that looks something like this:
- Provide general information, including your name, address and contact information. They’ll also ask you about your retirement goals, or if you’re already retired.
- Your spouse’s information, if you’re married.
- You’ll be asked a series of questions designed to establish your risk tolerance. This will be the basis for the investment strategy and asset allocation that will be used for your portfolio.
- In this step, you’ll be asked about your income and tax status. You’ll provide both the sources and the amount of income you receive, including pensions and other sources. You will also indicate your tax filing status – single, married filing jointly, or head of household.
- You’ll then provide asset information, including where you have your current assets, and how much.
The questions you’ll be asked in the third step are designed primarily to determine how comfortable you are with taking losses to your investments.
If that tends to be more upsetting to you, your portfolio will be designed with a more conservative asset mix. If you’re comfortable with risk, the portfolio will be designed to be more aggressive.
After you’ve completed the application and the risk tolerance questionnaire, a telephone conference will be set up with a Vanguard Advisor.
Several days later, a second conference will be set up. That can be done either by telephone or by video.
The first conference is mostly an information gathering exchange. The second is where you’ll be presented with a customized investment plan.
Types of Accounts
- Individual taxable accounts
- Joint taxable accounts
- Traditional IRAs
- Roth IRAs
- Rollover IRAs
- SEP IRAs
- SIMPLE IRAs
Your portfolio is designed based on your own personal investment risk tolerance.
At the extreme, your asset allocation can range between 100% stocks, to 100% short-term reserves.
Most likely, however, it will include a mix of domestic and foreign stocks, bonds, short-term investments and tax-exempt funds.
The core holdings of your portfolio will be comprised of stocks selected from more than 100 of Vanguard’s low-cost Admiral Shares.
But the most common holdings will include:
- Total Stock Market Index Fund (VTSMX)
- Total International Stock Index Fund (VTIAX)
- Total Bond Market Index Fund (VBTLX)
- Total International Bond Index Fund (VTABX)
- Intermediate-Term Investment Grade Fund (VFIDX)
- Short-term Investment Grade Fund (VFSUX)
- Intermediate Term Tax-Exempt Fund (VWIUX) (for taxable accounts only)
Vanguard’s Admiral Shares offer some of the lowest expense ratios in the industry.
Vanguard uses a sliding scale, offering lower fees to investors with larger accounts.
The pricing schedule is as follows:
- Accounts with less than $5 million: 0.30%
- Accounts from $5 million to below $10 million: 0.20%
- $10 million to below $25 million: 0.10%
- $25 million or more: 0.05%
Fees are calculated quarterly based on your average daily balance in the portfolio for the entire fee period (which is the prior calendar quarter).
Financial Advisor Video Chat
Vanguard makes this service available if you prefer it to phone contact.
You can set up a video chat, giving you a virtual face-to-face meeting with a financial advisor.
That will enable you to freely ask questions and exchange ideas.
You won’t be able to meet with a financial advisor in person. But the video chat capability is the next best thing.
Unlike a growing number of other robo-advisors, Vanguard Personal Services doesn’t offer tax-loss harvesting as an automatic feature.
But that doesn’t mean they offer no tax minimization strategies.
They efficiently allocate assets between taxable and tax-advantaged accounts.
For example, income generating assets, like those that produce interest and dividends, are held in tax-sheltered accounts to eliminate the tax liability they’ll produce.
Meanwhile, capital gains generating assets will be held in taxable accounts, where they’ll be subject to more favorable long-term capital gains tax rates.
Naturally, if your entire portfolio is held in either a tax-sheltered account or a taxable account, that account will hold both income producing and capital gains generating assets.
Vanguard has a fully functional investment website, with some of the best tools in the industry.
They’re particularly strong with research and educational tools.
Customer service is available for the robo-advisor Monday through Friday, from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM, Eastern time. Customer service can also be reached by email on a 24/7 basis.
Vanguard Personal Advisor is available on the mobile app, with all the functionality of the online version.
It is available for iOS and Android devices, through Google Play and the App store.
By working with Vanguard, you’ll be investing with one of the most highly regarded investment firms in the world.
They’re well known for their funds, but the Vanguard Personal Advisor has already grown to become the largest robo-advisor in the industry.
The availability of a personal financial advisor is a major plus with the service.
Most robo-advisors offer only very limited customer service, or none at all, as a way to keep fees low.
But Vanguard Personal Advisor gives you access to a life financial advisor at any time. And for larger portfolios, you’ll also get a dedicated financial advisor. That will give you all the benefits of a traditional human investment manager, but at only a fraction of the cost.
As well, you’ll be able to invest in mutual funds and ETF’s through Vanguard, if you want to add some self-directed investing to the mix.
The fee structure for Vanguard Personal Advisor is at about the middle of the range for the industry in general. You can get robo-advisors at a lower fee, but you won’t enjoy the personal contact with a financial advisor.
The main downside:
Vanguard Personal Advisor is the minimum initial investment of $50,000.
Most competitors are much lower, and some require no initial investment at all. But this service clearly caters to the higher end of the market.
That’s evident in the fee structure, that declines significantly once your portfolio runs into the millions of dollars.
But if you have the $50,000 minimum, Vanguard Personal Advisor is an excellent choice.