I don’t think anyone would argue the fact that it’s been a tough year. But, in the spirit of open-mindedness, are there any positives we can take away? One of the things I always tell my kids is to focus on what’s going well, not what’s going wrong. When I apply that to 2020, I don’t just see a year that served up challenges, I see a year that served up a lot of opportunity as well.
Now, by no means am I glossing over the pain. Financially speaking, nearly 14% of Americans report that the pandemic wiped out their emergency savings.* Beyond that, six in ten report that COVID-19 has negatively impacted their finances. And, as you might expect, confidence in investing has taken a hit across all generations.** But the pandemic has given us a few silver linings as well.
The lockdown opened the door to more quality time with family. Quarantine restrictions expanded our appreciation for essential workers. And while the coronavirus continues to keep us socially distant, it has also reminded us that we are all in this together.
That last phrase—we are all in this together—is one we’ve heard a lot this year. It was even posted on my front door over the summer, along with a rainbow drawn by my seven-year old. And while it’s an important message, it’s not a new one at Vanguard. Forty-five years ago, we defied an industry by founding a company entirely upon this premise. Our investors are our owners.*** It’s a one-of-a-kind structure for a mutual fund company that eliminates the need for conflicting agendas in any of our products or services—and this continues with our advice offer. Advice from Vanguard is designed solely to do what’s best for your participants. From how it’s built, to how it’s priced, to how it’s delivered, we’ve never lost sight that we’re all in this together. And honestly, I’m not sure anyone else out there can say that.
In my role as a department head in Institutional Client Services and the leader of Advice Distribution in our Institutional business, I am lucky to have first-hand conversations with sponsors. It means the world to me to be able to look every last one of them in the eye and confidently affirm that their participants will never have to deal with bait and switch techniques that try to push them into high-cost retail advice or other products that are designed to line the pockets of the firm and not the investor. We will never dangle low prices that are laced with hidden agendas. Our fees are fair and transparent. And they always will be. Our corporate structure and mission demand it.
In the course of these conversations, I’m asked a lot of tough questions. And I love it, because we’ve designed an advice offer that can stand up in the face of tough questions. I thought I’d share a few of those with you here.
How does your advice offer help create lifelong financial well-being for participants?
One thing I’ve discovered through my conversations is that everyone has their own definition of what financial well-being means. So, it’s worth taking a minute to level set. For us, financial well-being is both a financial and an emotional outcome. When participants are able to do things like pay down debt and save for emergencies, they feel more confident. It’s simple, really. Better financial outcomes make you feel better about your life. One naturally begets the other.
Vanguard offers a spectrum of solutions to help participants create their unique versions of financial well-being. Trustworthy financial advice is certainly one of them. Our goals-based approach to advice was designed to support financial planning for competing goals and has capabilities to help with everything from paying down debt, buying a house, and saving for emergencies to turning your nest egg into your retirement paycheck.
How is it different from other advice offers in the marketplace?
This might be my favorite question, because we’ve really put ourselves through the paces to bring you something above and beyond the average advice offer. Unlike so many others, Advice from Vanguard is bringing a fully integrated experience to participants. This is big. Consider for a minute that investors often have to navigate multiple platforms within a single managed plan. In addition to a recordkeeper platform, there could be a separate advice platform, multiple benefits platforms, and perhaps even an additional wellness platform. That’s a pretty complex ecosystem, and it opens participants to conflicting guidance. Behavioral finance tells us that complexity and confusion create inertia, and this keeps investors from taking the actions needed to create meaningful outcomes.
With advice seamlessly integrated into the participant experience, we’re eliminating that confusion. Instead, regardless of whether they’re accessing our digital solution or engaging in an ongoing advisor relationship, investors will receive consistent, actionable guidance that is hyper-relevant to their individual financial well-being goals. Through this hyper-personalized approach, we’re also shifting away from mass campaigns that blanket entire plan populations to focus on individual participants. Our goal is to bring the right advice to each investor on the channel they most prefer and at a time when it will be most useful to them.
Another differentiating factor is the depth of personalization we bring to portfolio construction. Advice has the ability to move beyond simply an investor’s age and expected retirement date. This level of personalization is table stakes for a TDF. Integrating deeper data, such as an individual’s personal tolerance to financial loss, marital status, and life expectancy enables us to develop an investment strategy and financial planning advice that is uniquely suited for the individual investor.
How will my participants be better off by using the advice?
I like to remind sponsors that they have the right to expect an advice offer that can deliver measurable value. Based on a study of more than 3,000 Vanguard investors, we found that advice can deliver tangible portfolio, financial, and emotional value. These include increased portfolio diversification and a greater probability of achieving financial goals. The study also showed that the emotional impact of having a trusted advisor continues to grow. In fact, based on a study of more than 500 PAS investors, we found that 45% of the perceived value of advice is the peace of mind it provides.†
This last piece of data really speaks to that emotional aspect of financial well-being. Nearly half of real investors are telling us that advice is about more than number crunching and goal forecasting. They’re looking for someone they can trust to help them create the outcomes that will bring them confidence and peace of mind.
For 25 years we’ve been that trusted advisor for our retail investors. And we’re thrilled to bring that expertise and integrity to our 401(k) participants. Because, above all, 2020 has taught us how important it is to be there when someone is in need.
This is the third blog in a series of four.
Up next: A passion driven mission for financial well-being.
* CNBC, 2020.
** Vanguard Digital Advisor® survey, August 2020.
*** Vanguard is client-owned. Client-owned means fund shareholders own the funds, which own Vanguard.
† Assessing the Value of Advice, Vanguard Center for Investor Research, Cynthia A. Pagliaro and Stephen P. Utkus.
All investing is subject to risk, including the possible loss of the money you invest.
Advice services are provided by Vanguard Advisers, Inc., a registered investment advisor or by Vanguard National Trust Company, a federally chartered, limited-purpose trust company.
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.