Investing > Vanguard Personal Advisor Services Review

Vanguard Personal Advisor Services Review

Vanguard’s PAS is an excellent choice for investors with large sums who prefer automated investing with full access to human advisors.

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When it comes to the battle of the human vs robo advisor, both have their downfalls: People are always prone to human error, while purely digital algorithms lack the human-to-human contact that is all too often needed in financial planning.

So what’s the ideal choice?

Instead of choosing one or the other, Vanguard has combined the best of both worlds with its Personal Advisor Services (PAS).

Robo advisors remain a recent development. Though they are already a lucrative market, it’s been a bumpy ride – and it won’t be smooth sailing from here on out either. Many of them have struggled to provide good returns – and just as many have gone under.

Today, we’ll be dealing with an unusual robo advisor. Vanguard is the farthest thing possible from a volatile startup, and its personal advisor service is a hybrid that offers everything a robo advisor does – and then some. 

Vanguard’s PAS combines the strengths of both human and robo advisors. While the account minimum is quite high, the service offers attractive fees, as well as in-depth consultations, goal setting, and financial planning.

Fast Facts

  • Account Minimum: $50,000
  • Fees: 0.05% – 0.30%
  • Best for: Seasoned investors 
  • Highlight: Access to human financial advisors, low fees, personalized planning

Ratings

  • Commissions & Fees: 7.5/10
  • Investment Selection: 9/10
  • Account Options & Features: 8.5/10
  • Usability: 6/10
  • Educational Resources: 7/10
  • Customer Service: 8/10
  • Overall: 7.5/10
Visit Vanguard PAS on Vanguard’s website

In this day and age of rapid technological progress, financial services of all kinds are constantly changing and evolving. The same holds true for financial advisors – with many predicting that fully and partially digital robo advisors will become a trillion-dollar industry by the end of the year.

The ability to consult human advisors sets Vanguard’s PAS apart from most competitors. But the question is whether or not it is the right choice for you. To help you find the answer, we’ve prepared a thorough review of Vanguard’s robo advisor – so let’s dive right in.

What is Vanguard’s Personal Advisor Service?

If you’ve been keeping your ear to the ground, you’ve probably heard a lot of chatter regarding robo-advisors. And where there’s smoke, there’s fire – this new, tech-oriented approach is headed straight toward a meteoric rise, with forecasts estimating that we’ll see over $16 trillion in assets under management within the next five years. 

However, Vanguard’s personal advisor service isn’t a fully-digital robo-advisor – but a hybrid service that incorporates several of the features that traditional financial advisors offer. It offers all of the advantages that a regular robo-advisor does – along with the benefit of professional, well thought out human advice.

So, what does all of that actually mean in plain, simple language? Vanguard’s PAS will use algorithms and software to automatically adjust your investments for maximum performance – just like a robo advisor, but you’ll also have access to Vanguard’s financial advisors – traditional flesh-and-blood advisors. 

Vanguard PAS Overview and Summary

  1. Vanguard’s comprehensive financial planning is designed to help you stay on track towards meeting your long-term goals – whatever they might be.
  2. Automatic rebalancing and quarterly reviews by professionals ensure an optimal asset allocation that allows your investments to net you safe, consistent returns.
  3. Low fees, tax-efficient asset allocation and withdrawal planning minimize client-side expenses – and maximize profits.
  4. The personal advisor service really lives up to its name. Vanguard’s employees will go out of their way to put together an investment approach specifically tailored to your needs.
  5. The service’s high minimum deposit will deter most beginners – but if you can afford it, this unique hybrid robo advisor can be a powerful tool at your disposal.

Is Vanguard’s Personal Advisor Service Any Good?

In short – it is. You don’t have to take our word for it though – we’ll back that claim up in greater detail down below, while still clearly laying out some of Vanguard’s weaker points. Vanguard is a renowned industry leader, a giant that’s become a household name – and for good reason. 

Vanguard’s PAS might sound like the best of both worlds – but is that truly the case? More so than not. We’ve done a thorough comparison of robo advisors and financial advisors, and our conclusion regarding hybrids hasn’t changed – they’re a great middle-ground that combines the advantages of these two approaches.

Regular robo advisors will usually rebalance your portfolio daily – in the case of Vanguard’s PAS, rebalancing happens quarterly, or when your portfolio deviates from the planned optimal allocation by 5% in any position.

So, is the less frequent rebalancing an issue? Not really – Vanguard’s famed low-risk, long-term investment strategies wouldn’t really benefit from non-stop rebalancing.

To add to this, such short-term corrections might be beneficial in the moment – but no algorithm on earth can accurately predict the best play in the long run. However – Vanguard’s human advisors can – so even though rebalancing occurs less frequently, Vanguard’s approach is the one that is more personal and hands-on.

Vanguard has a massive $6.2 trillion in assets under management and is the largest provider of mutual funds, as well as the second-largest provider of ETFs. You don’t rise to such heights by offering sub-par services – and their PAS does not disappoint.

In keeping with Vanguard’s tradition, the PAS also leverages Vanguard’s size and scale to offer low fees, while still retaining a high level of quality service-wise. If you’re interested in an in-depth overlook, check out our Vanguard review.

On its own, Vanguard’s personal advisor service already has more than $161 billion in assets under management – and that’s miles ahead of the majority of the competition. The service has established itself as an industry leader – in the rapidly growing world of robo-advisors, its particular blend of robo-advice and human advice is unique – and it has been a good strategy thus far.

Is Vanguard PAS Good for Beginners?

Vanguard’s service is good – but it probably won’t be the best choice for a lot of beginners. There’s really only one factor that makes Vanguard’s PAS beginner-unfriendly, and that is the minimum investment requirement – which is a lofty $50,000. Many competitors, such as Wealthfront, require much smaller minimum deposits – and others, such as M1 Finance, don’t even have a minimum investment requirement.

That’s quite high for a minimum deposit – and if you don’t meet the mark, you can’t make use of Vanguard’s PAS. Simply put, a lot of beginners won’t be able to meet this requirement.

However, if you do have enough money to put up, Vanguard’s PAS is a great choice for beginners – offering low management fees, direct portfolio management and comprehensive, sound, personalized advice for long-term goals. If you can’t meet the minimum investment requirement, take a look at our review of the leading robo advisors to see if another service might suit you better.

Does Vanguard Pas Come With a Human Financial Advisor?

Yes – but allow us to explain before things get a chance to become confusing. Vanguard’s personal advisor is a hybrid service – meaning that it offers both the services of a robo-advisor along with a human touch. 

From the get-go, starting with opening an account, you will have to consult human advisors at least twice before a concrete plan is put into motion. From then on, you will have unlimited access to advisors via phone, email, and videoconferencing from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM Eastern Time.

Portfolios up to $500,000 are managed by a team of advisors – once you cross that threshold, you will be given access to a dedicated advisor. At this point, a dedicated advisor can manage your portfolio much more thoroughly and efficiently.  However, the level of quality that is provided is the same, whether or not you cross that threshold – most of the advice you’ll receive is straight out of Vanguard’s playbook, and it happens to work well in either case.

Another important thing to note is that all of Vanguard’s human advisors are fiduciaries – they are legally required to act in your best interest. More to the point, they don’t work on commission – instead, they are all salaried.

Vanguard’s advisors don’t have any incentive to recommend any particular product – meaning that you’ll get a plan that is conservative, level-headed, and goal-driven, rather than market-driven. A large proportion of the advisors are also certified financial planners.

Setting up an Account

Setting up an account with Vanguard’s PAS is a rather straightforward but time-consuming process. You can make use of a free consultation to get concrete answers to any specific questions, and Vanguard’s customer service will gladly take the time out to go over any areas of interest. If you’re sold on the idea, the next step is creating a Vanguard PAS account.

You’ll need a Vanguard account to do that, of course, but there’s no need to worry if you don’t already have one – the sign-up process is quite simple. Opening a Vanguard account will require your social security number, email address, U.S. address, and employer’s name and address (if applicable).

The next step is to fill out Vanguard’s intake questionnaire. It will go over your current financial situation, risk tolerance, and goals.

Once that’s taken care of, the next step is to schedule a call with a Vanguard advisor. That first conversation will mostly focus on the information you’ve already provided in the questionnaire – but this time, a professional will take a much more personal and in-depth approach.

Make sure to set aside enough time – it’s quite likely that this conversation will last for at least half an hour.

Once the advisor has reviewed the questionnaire results and you’ve discussed your goals and risk tolerance, they’ll start to develop and formulate a financial plan. The specific asset allocation that the account will make use of will be tailored to provide the best possible performance in light of your goals and risk-taking capacity. Vanguard’s own low-fee funds are a logical first step – and a good percentage of your investment will be centered on them.

In a few weeks, you’ll be presented with a customized, personalized financial plan that will include a mix of low-cost diversified stock and bond investments that are best suited to your situation. Whereas before the waiting period was usually closer to a full month, the current waiting time is approximately two weeks.

Your own level of involvement in the process is up to you – if you wish to take a more hands-on approach and steer the plan in a certain direction, you can do so.

Vanguard's Goal Analysis Summary
Vanguard’s goal analysis summary gives you the valuable info you can use when making investment strategies.

Once you’re satisfied with the plan, you have to agree to it before it is implemented. This adds another, albeit shorter waiting period. Overall, setting up a Vanguard PAS account will take a lot longer than setting up an account with a regular robo advisor – but the hybrid nature of the service, its high level of quality, and the ability to consult human advisors at any given time make this, admittedly real drawback part of a fair trade in the long run.

Goal Setting and Planning

Goal setting and planning is an important part of Vanguard’s PAS offering. Although a financially secure retirement is the most common reason why people engage the services of financial advisors, it isn’t the only one. Vanguard will pay close attention to your goals – whether it be retirement, homeownership, paying off student loans, or anything else.

You can easily monitor the progress that is being made towards your goal either online or via Vanguard’s app. The automatic rebalancing, driven by software, and the regular reviews done by human advisors will guarantee that your goals aren’t just being met – but that they’re being met in the safest, most efficient way.

But as we all know, the market is an unpredictable, fickle thing. Circumstances change, sometimes quite dramatically and rapidly. And even if they don’t – your goals and wishes might change all the same. Vanguard can redirect your portfolio to work towards a different goal – just keep in mind that this will require extensive consultations and a large time investment.

Vanguard's What If Scenarios
With Vanguard’s simulator tool you can see the possible outcomes of a particular investment strategy.

Vanguard’s PAS account also allows you to work towards multiple goals at the same time – this will require multiple Vanguard accounts though. The $50,000 minimum might lead you to believe that this is an option that only makes sense for those who have significant amounts of money on hand – but even if you have multiple accounts, the minimum deposit is still $50,000 in total.

User Experience

Vanguard’s PAS offers you an experience that is as hands-on as you want it to be. But no matter how involved you want to be, user experience is an important part of the overall equation. So, what’s the user experience like for this service when using the mobile app or the online interface?

Mobile App

Vanguard’ doesn’t have a dedicated standalone PAS app – but Vanguard’s regular mobile app allows you to access the service. The app is available for iOS and Android, and iPad and Kindle versions are also available. It uses a two-factor authentication system to guarantee security and is quite user-friendly with regard to design and readability. 

However, this is one of the rare areas in which Vanguard has dropped the ball somewhat in recent years. The app is slowly lagging behind competitors when it comes to new features, and updates to the app have been known to cause various issues of differing magnitudes – from small bugs and the constant redirecting of users to different parts of the app to crashes, freezes, and being unable to log in.

The app also requires you to type your password out an inordinate amount of times – a fact that doesn’t mesh well with strong, secure passwords. Accessing certain parts of the app will require you to input your password again, even though you’ve already logged in – and interacting with other apps in any way, shape, or form – even clicking on a link that will take you to Vanguard’s website – will automatically log you out.

Online/Desktop Experience

Much in the same way as the mobile app, there is no dedicated website for Vanguard’s PAS. Vanguard’s site used to be very dated when compared to the industry standard – but progress is being made on that front, and a recent redesign has made the site quite a bit easier on the eye. 

Vanguard now operates a number of different website subsections, all of which offer a more focused overview of a particular topic. You can try to navigate your way to the PAS through a number of these subsections – but it’s still a convoluted, confusing, messy experience. We recommend using the search function as it is the most elegant approach by far – simply type in PAS or personal advisor services, and you’ll be directed to where you need to go.

Once you actually log in, the desktop experience is quite decent. It’s on the brief side of things, and definitely a tad too marketing oriented. If you’re interested in the actual investment methodology, you’ll have to take a look at Vanguard’s disclosures. On the other hand, the website offers useful guides, calculators, simulators, and educational materials – although they can also be hard to navigate. 

None of the abovementioned flaws are too major – the experience is satisfactory, but we hope to see Vanguard further streamline the process down the line. The recent improvements to the online experience are a welcome, promising sight – but Vanguard is still playing catch-up in this area.

How Do I Deposit and Withdraw Funds With a Vanguard Pas Account?

Deposits have to be made through your advisor – although this isn’t ideal, it isn’t a huge drawback so much as an occasional chore. However, withdrawals also have to go through your advisor – and this ends up being quite beneficial.

Having to go through your advisor to withdraw funds guarantees that you won’t be able to make an irrational, hair-trigger, split-second decision  – at least without being forced to confront an opposing opinion. Vanguard’s advisors are well-versed in market fluctuations – and Vanguard practically invented the modern conception of long-term investing. 

Human irrationality is the single biggest risk when it comes to investing. The fact that you have to withdraw funds via your advisor means that you’ll have more time to collect yourself and less of a chance to commit impulsive mistakes. Having access to a seasoned professional can offer you a series of alternatives to withdrawing – prudent, low-risk, and long-term oriented alternatives that are grounded in established investing practices.

Vanguard PAS Pricing and Fees

Vanguard’s PAS is not a free service. It entails certain fees – some of which you will most definitely have to deal with, and some of which only apply in specific situations.

To use Vanguard’s PAS, you have to have a Vanguard account. These accounts come with a small annual fee of $20 – which is a footnote in the grand scheme of things. But understanding the fee structure, as well as the amount of money that using the PAS will require, will allow you to have a better sense of whether or not Vanguard’s service is the right choice for you.

Does Vanguard PAS Have an Annual Fee?

Yes – and this fee is billed quarterly. For the first $5 million managed, the advisory fee will be 0.30% – which is quite decent, although it isn’t the best rate out there. Vanguard’s rate is much lower than that of a traditional financial advisor – but other hybrid services and robo advisors do have lower fees.

However, the fee becomes increasingly more attractive as your portfolio grows – here is the current fee structure of Vanguard’s PAS:

– 0.25% for assets between $5 million and $10 million

– 0.10% for assets between $10 million and $25 million

– 0.05% on assets above $25 million

Does Vanguard PAS Have Hidden Fees?

Vanguard has recently reevaluated and updated its fee scheme. Removing and reducing fees is a promising sign – but Vanguard is still far from eliminating all costs.

If you decide to use Vanguard’s PAS, you might end up having to face some additional expenses. The PAS service agreement details all of the possible scenarios in which you’ll be subjected to fees. The fees are usually quite small, and they won’t take a big bite out of your investments – but it is definitely something to consider when looking at the bigger picture.

Non-Vanguard mutual funds might be subject to transaction fees. While individual stock sales won’t incur a fee, various non-Vanguard assets might be subjected to transaction fees once liquidated. No fees are incurred when buying or selling Vanguard ETFs – and the expense ratio of the mutual funds and ETFs used by this service averages a very low 0.10% – much lower than that of the competition.

The hidden fees won’t amount to much, but they’re there – and you should use the free consultation to ask about specifics. Transaction, commission, trading, buying, and selling fees are all within the realm of possibility.

Does Vanguard PAS Charge a Fee for Closing an Account?

There is no termination fee as such, however, Vanguard will charge you a fee if you decide to close the account. This isn’t an additional fee, but a collection of the final fee before closing an account.

The market value of your portfolio will be determined one business day prior to the effective date of termination, or on the day when asset transfers begin, whichever comes earlier. The fee will be calculated based on the number of days the account was included in the portfolio during the current quarter.

Vanguard PAS Investment Offerings

Now that we’ve covered the basics of Vanguard’s PAS, as well as the process of setting up an account, let’s take a closer look at the way the service will manage your investments.

Vanguard’s long-term oriented investing philosophy relies on three pillars – low-cost securities, indexing, and diversification. Your money will be put to use through a variety of industries, asset classes, and market sectors. Vanguard’s advisors will make use of the roughly 200 Vanguard ETFs and mutual funds – but in practice, they will focus mostly on low-cost ETFs.

Your portfolio will also certainly include both stocks and bonds – but the exact ratio will depend on your current situation, goals, and your own input. The stocks in your portfolio will span a wide range – from large-cap to small-cap and international stocks, and the same holds true for bonds as well – the portfolio will likely include both short-term, long-term, and international bonds.

Vanguard’s PAS tends to focus on low-cost investments. This approach has two main benefits – it reduces fees, while also reducing risk. It also functions as a good counterweight to the rather high minimum deposit.

Does Vanguard PAS Use Tax-Loss Harvesting?

Tax-loss harvesting is an increasingly popular method of lowering your tax burden. If you’re not familiar with the term, check out our comprehensive guide to tax-loss harvesting.

Unlike most other robo and hybrid advisors, Vanguard’s PAS does not automatically utilize tax-loss harvesting. But the entire story is a bit more complex – so let’s break it down bit by bit.

Vanguard’s PAS will automatically allocate assets between different account types in order to optimize the performance of your investments. This can noticeably reduce the tax burden that you’ll be subjected to.

Supported Account Types

  • Taxable
  • Joint
  • Traditional IRA
  • Roth IRA
  • Rollover IRA
  • SEP IRA
  • Simple IRA
  • Trusts
  • 401(k) guidance

So, is there no way to leverage tax-loss harvesting with Vanguard’s PAS? We said that it isn’t done automatically – and we wouldn’t consider that a drawback or a mistake on Vanguard’s part.

It’s easy to look at tax-loss harvesting as a complete positive – but it does carry its own risks. But it is available to you – if tax-loss harvesting is an important part of your financial strategy, you can talk to your advisor and opt-in for that particular approach.

Even though Vanguard’s PAS doesn’t support several account types, the service will still take those accounts and the assets within them into consideration when formulating plans. The same holds true for assets which are held outside of Vanguard.

While we’re on the ghastly topic of taxes, we should also mention that Vanguard’s PAS will also figure out an optimized, tax-friendly distribution plan for when you want to start withdrawing the money that your investments have netted you. Although 401k accounts aren’t supported by the service, the PAS offers top-notch 401k guidance and assistance.

Customer Service

In recent years, Vanguard has acquired a reputation for its excellent customer service. Though the Vanguard PAS used to be an exception to that rule, that blemish on Vanguard’s record is more or less completely erased.

As a response to generally long waiting times (which used to range from about 5 minutes to an unacceptable 15), Vanguard have decided to invest heavily in customer service – and it paid off. Advisors are available via phone call, email, and videoconferencing from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM Eastern time. The service’s customer support is patient, professional, and knowledgeable, in keeping with Vanguard’s high standards.

However, there are a couple of downsides. There is no live chat option, which severely limits how reactive customer service is – and Vanguard’s secure messaging application has two glaring deficiencies – it requires registration, and operates via email.

Apart from that one area, which could do with some modernization, the overall quality of Vanguard’s customer service is quite high, and the company has proven that it is committed to further improvements in this regard.

Vanguard PAS – Is It Safe?

When it comes to investing, there are no foolproof plans and absolutely safe bets. That being said, if you choose to invest your money with Vanguard, you’ll be able to sleep easier than most. 

They’ve been in business for 45 years, they manage an unimaginable amount of assets, and they’ve consistently provided good returns to their investors – who now number more than 30 million people across 170 countries.

Vanguard is also a member of the SIPC – in the extremely unlikely event that Vanguard does fail, investors will receive up to $500,000 in securities and cash. As far as operation security, Vanguard’s online services use 256-bit SSL encryption, and the company is self-clearing – meaning that they use an in-house solution through their own brokerage service that handles all trades and transactions.

All reviews, research, news and assessments of any kind on The Tokenist are compiled using a strict editorial review process by our editorial team. Neither our writers nor our editors receive direct compensation of any kind to publish information on TheTokenist.io. Our company, Tokenist Media LLC, is community supported and may receive a small commission when you purchase products or services through links on our website. Click here for a full list of our partners and an in-depth explanation on how we get paid.

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