The past few weeks have been unsettling for us all. Like you, we at Vanguard are concerned for those affected by coronavirus (COVID-19) and for the health and safety of our clients and crew. I know many of you are adjusting to new work and personal routines. And of course, we’ve all watched the sharp market swings as investors assess the pandemic and its broader impact on the global economy.
While the pandemic wasn’t something we could’ve predicted, disruptions like this are the sort of thing we carefully and methodically prepare for.
Vanguard offices remain open and fully operational, albeit with some significant changes. Most of our crew—including our participant service associates—are working from home, in keeping with social distancing measures meant to slow the spread of the virus. To that same end, our relationship managers and investment consultants are coordinating with clients to conduct all meetings remotely. Our aim is to keep your experience as seamless as possible as we transition to a virtual service model.
Although we’ve seen a significant spike in calls from retirement plan participants, the increase is well within our system’s capacity. To support participants, many of our phone associates are choosing to work additional hours, and we’ve asked other trained Vanguard crew to help answer calls. We’ve reached out to participants through email and our website to prepare them for longer call wait times and encourage them to take advantage of our full array of online services and educational resources.
At the same time, we’re reminding our phone associates to take adequate time to answer participants’ questions, while offering guidance, reassurance, and perspective. While we have seen an increase in the number of fund exchanges and allocation changes, on the whole, participants have shown amazing resilience. Most are heeding our guidance to keep a diversified portfolio of assets, avoid acting on fear, and stay focused on long-term goals.
Some key insights: From the beginning of February through March 20, only 3.10% of participants made a fund trade.1 By comparison, 1.30% traded during the same period in 2019. Further, just 0.87% of participants who are invested in a single target-date fund executed a trade. This figure is consistent with what we know from our longer-term data: Target-date funds and other professionally managed allocations can help investors “stay the course” through stormy markets.2
On the asset management side of our operations, our experienced investment teams are prepared for bouts of extreme market volatility. They continue to expertly manage cash flows, maintain liquidity, and rebalance assets as needed, all while keeping our funds and client portfolios aligned with their respective mandates.
Our investment teams are spread out across sites in the U.S., the U.K., and Australia. This redundancy allows us to manage any Vanguard fund or client portfolio from any of our investment management hubs in any region. Our investment team crew are now split between our primary sites and the contingency sites we maintain in each region, and a growing number of them are now working from home. You can hear more about our business continuity plans from Vanguard CEO Tim Buckley and CIO Greg Davis in this video.
Finally, I know that the recent events have presented many challenges to you—both personally and professionally. Please know we’re here to support you, your organization, and your employees. Our experts are continuously evaluating the market environment as events unfold, and we’ll be sharing information and insights on the coronavirus crisis with you directly, through email, and in our site’s market volatility library.
1 Trading figures are based on participant-directed exchanges in and out of funds. Excludes participants enrolled in Vanguard Managed Account Program (VMAP).
2 For details on the trading activity of participants in Vanguard-administered defined contribution plans, see our publication How America Saves 2019, pages 92–96. For a more comprehensive analysis, see our research paper Understanding Household Trading Behavior 2011–2018.
- All investing is subject to risk, including the possible loss of the money you invest. Diversification does not ensure a profit or protect against a loss.
- Investments in target-date funds are subject to the risks of their underlying funds. The year in the fund name refers to the approximate year (the target date) when an investor in the fund would retire and leave the workforce. The fund will gradually shift its emphasis from more aggressive investments to more conservative ones based on its target date. An investment in target-date funds is not guaranteed at any time, including on or after the target date.
- Target-date fund providers are responsible only for selecting the underlying investments and periodically rebalancing the holdings of the funds. The asset allocations selected for target-date funds are based on the providers’ investment experience and are geared to the average investor. Investors should regularly check the asset mix of the target-date option they choose to ensure it is appropriate for their current situation.