Vanguard Customer Service

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A440
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Vanguard Customer Service

Post by A440 » Wed Jul 01, 2015 7:29 am

Has anyone else been experiencing lower customer service recently from Vanguard? We are at the Voyager Select level, and have called for a variety of reasons lately (e.g. Rebalancing, 403b(7)/IRA rollovers). We have received different levels of service each time we call. Sometimes we get a knowledgeable CSR, and other times not so much. I don't seem to recall such a difference in the level of service in the past, but it could be that we are calling for reasons that need more expertise from the CSR.

kenner
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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by kenner » Wed Jul 01, 2015 7:36 am

A CSR should be able to help with the mechanics of rollovers, but not with certain aspects of re-balancing a portfolio. Can you be more specific? What were you asking for?

Collectively, this forum has hundreds of years of experience dealing with Vanguard. Fire away with questions.

dolphinsaremammals
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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by dolphinsaremammals » Wed Jul 01, 2015 7:54 am

I've contacted Vanguard several times in the last couple of weeks, and gotten good service. If it's something complex, the first line people transfer promptly up the chain.

DRDR
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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by DRDR » Thu Dec 24, 2015 6:37 pm

I transferred from to Vanguard from Fidelity. I am still have access to the Premium team for assets at Fidelity, and have Flagship service at Vanguard. I like vanguards low cost index funds, and admiral shares (however admiral not available in the 401k or variable annuity), but the customer service at Vanguard is terrible.

From reading these boards, in general Bogleheads are favorable to Vanguard. But I find it highly time consuming to be on endless holds with interns. At fidelity, a premium team member always got me to someone with real expertise on the question, or action I was calling about without endless hold times and intern like knowledge and intern-like intermediaries before I was finally transferred to a knowledgeable source.

I have worked both for the government and as a business owner. Service, and employee mentality at vanguard is more like calling the government.

DRDR
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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by DRDR » Thu Dec 24, 2015 6:41 pm

I transferred from to Vanguard from Fidelity. I am still have access to the Premium team for assets at Fidelity, and have Flagship service at Vanguard. I like vanguards low cost index funds, and admiral shares (however admiral not available in the 401k or variable annuity), but the customer service at Vanguard is terrible.

From reading these boards, in general Bogleheads are favorable to Vanguard. But I find it highly time consuming to be on endless holds with interns. At fidelity, a premium team member always got me to someone with real expertise on the question, or action I was calling about without endless hold times and intern like knowledge and intern-like intermediaries before I was finally transferred to a knowledgeable source.

I have worked both for the government and as a business owner. Service, and employee mentality at vanguard is more like calling the government.

Avo
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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by Avo » Thu Dec 24, 2015 6:47 pm

I have two inherited IRAs that I need to take RMDs from, one at Vanguard and one at Wells Fargo. Usually I make the calls around Dec.1, but this year it got away from me. So I called yesterday.

Wells Fargo: one call, around 5 minutes total time.

Vanguard: multiple calls, around 45 minutes total time.

livesoft
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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by livesoft » Thu Dec 24, 2015 6:57 pm

I called Vanguard this week 3 times. Each time, the CSR said (paraphrasing), "Oh, that's a brokerage issue, let me put you in contact with the brokerage folks …." I found that amusing since Vanguard wants me to update my account to "brokerage". It seems that the CSRs are not ready to work with brokerage accounts.

Furthermore, I wonder if the Vanguard CSRs are even allowed to have brokerage accounts of their own that would hold ETFs and stocks. I know that some financial institutions limit the transactions of their employees for good reason, but if the Vanguard CSRs have never even used a brokerage account before, then I question their expertise with Vanguard's products, web site, and account services.

Oh, did the CSR's help me? They sure tried hard, but not really. I am going to have to wing it and see how it turns out.
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cfs
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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by cfs » Thu Dec 24, 2015 7:17 pm

Snail Mail and Email.

I have not done any business with Vanguard via phone in a long time. Snail mail and email is working fine. At least for now.

Have a Feliz Navidad.
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Errantflyer
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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by Errantflyer » Thu Dec 24, 2015 7:54 pm

I'm currently a Vanguard client at the Voyager level and called Vanguard Concierge Service with simple questions regarding moving additional stocks/ETF's and mutual account IRA accounts into Vanguard in order to save fees and in order to qualify for the lofty services described for either Voyager Select or Flagship level. I was bounced to 3 separate CSR's before I got any worthwhile information. I find that the actual customer service level and expertise of CSR's/Concierge employees does not correspond to the the marketing on the web site.

Evidently, customer service is not a priority in this customer-owned company. Is this a new development or was it prevalent when Bogle was more involved with the company?

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LadyGeek
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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by LadyGeek » Thu Dec 24, 2015 9:44 pm

A phone call worked best for me.

I have POA for my mother's Vanguard account ("user agent" authorization). Early this year, I arranged to have her IRA Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) automatically transferred to her bank account via ACH authorization. Her bank account number changed later in the year and I failed to update her bank info.

Her RMD was scheduled on 12/15/2015. According to Vanguard, the transfer was completed. Several days later, which plenty of enough time for an ACH transfer, no funds had arrived at the bank.

I quickly realized what happened and immediately updated the bank info. This takes a few days for the authorization process to complete*. In the mean time, I sent a secure message to Vanguard explaining what happened with instructions to send the funds to the new bank account. I get an email that the message was sent.

Do they answer my secure message? Nope. What do they do? Call my mother and ask her to call Vanguard. I called Vanguard, as she does not understand investments beyond a checking and savings account.

The customer service rep was polite, but she had to contact someone else to see what was going on with the ACH transfer.

Long story short, the service rep understood the problem and got the right assistance. I'm disappointed that it took a phone call, and one that needed extra internal assistance, to find out what happened to my bounced ACH transfer. Vanguard will wait 3 days and then automatically send a check. It would be nice if I was notified about this, as the online account info indicated no problems had occurred.

They did offer me the choice of sending a check or transferring the funds to her taxable account. I went for the check, as I didn't want to make this decision on the fly. They also stated that the bounced RMD transaction complied with IRS rules (the distribution was made) even though it didn't go through.

In summary, I have a feeling that customer service is not integrated with the rest of the financial system. They have a lot of departments with a lot of disconnected databases. The reps are probably trying to do what they can, but are limited by their software.

* Vanguard deposits 2 transactions of a few cents, you tell Vanguard what was deposited to confirm the authorization. Vanguard will then freeze activity for 7 days following the initial authorization.
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PB
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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by PB » Mon Jan 04, 2016 7:55 pm

Unfortunately, I need to add my disappointment with Vanguard's Customer Service.

For years I've been a relatively vocal critic of Vanguard's technical services -- they are second rate, and the recent account "upgrade" is just the latest example.

But their customer service has been OK. At least until the last few times I called. Right now I'm on hold AFTER I elected to have them call me back. That is, I elected the callback, and waited 30 minutes for the rep to return my call. But he couldn't answer my question. So he referred me to another rep. I was placed on hold, and the recording said there would be a wait time of 2 minutes. But I waited another 27 minutes, and then the next rep couldn't help me.

So now I'm waiting for the 3rd rep, 31 minutes and counting, not knowing if he or she will be able to help me, nearly an hour after I initiated the call.

Vanguard has become so enormous and compartmentalized, it is a joke. Disappointing, discouraging and a joke.

PB
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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by PB » Mon Jan 04, 2016 8:14 pm

UPDATE: it's now been 75 minutes, but the 3rd rep is helping me.

The people are solid, but the process is broken.

FRANK2009
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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by FRANK2009 » Tue Jan 05, 2016 7:39 am

I've been a Vanguard client for 25 years. My portfolio and my needs are simple. I call maybe once or twice a year mainly to transfer shares from a mutual fund to an ETF. Everything else I can do online. I wouldn't expect Vanguard to help much with investment advice, which suits me just fine.

Investing Newbie
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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by Investing Newbie » Tue Jan 05, 2016 8:09 am

As somebody that is going to be opening my first IRA and eventually taxable account soon, I'm concerned to hear these issues. Which company tends to have good customer service and ease of online account management? At first I'm definitely going to have simple questions to ask about the mechanics of rebalancing, etc.

I was looking forward to signing up with Vanguard given the vast majority of recommendations involve Vanguard funds, but should be easy enough to find other provider equivalents of Three Fund Portfolio.

Vanguard still a good way to go? Obviously in this population the results are going to be skewed, but would be interested in other opinions.

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in_reality
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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by in_reality » Tue Jan 05, 2016 8:24 am

Investing Newbie wrote:Vanguard still a good way to go? Obviously in this population the results are going to be skewed, but would be interested in other opinions.


Um, yes they are a very good way to go.

That said, I never found out why one account had been renamed as part of someone else's estate and why one named as part of someone's trust or why one had an unknown beneficiary. I think it had to do with money having gone missing and happened to end up in their accounts and that was what they did to get the money back.

Mistakes happen and I am not suggesting your money is at risk. I am saying that a simple explanation would have been sufficient to keep me complaining about it on internet forums until the end of time.

Anyway, my suggestion is not to complain too much if you have trouble because they have enough customers without you. That is my experience at least.
Last edited by in_reality on Tue Jan 05, 2016 8:51 am, edited 1 time in total.
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rustymutt
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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by rustymutt » Tue Jan 05, 2016 8:38 am

My 2016 resolution was to not complain, or argue in 2016 and beyond.

I'm very happy with the service I receive from Vanguard. That said, there's always room for improvements. The lower cost at Vanguard is why I went them. I enjoy helping to train their customer service reps.

:happy
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Quark
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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by Quark » Tue Jan 05, 2016 8:50 am

Better customer service would be more expensive, which means higher fees, which means lower returns. Which you prefer depends on your priorities.

dbr
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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by dbr » Tue Jan 05, 2016 9:33 am

Quark wrote:Better customer service would be more expensive, which means higher fees, which means lower returns. Which you prefer depends on your priorities.


There is a point of view that maybe Vanguard should be a manager of mutual funds and not engage in the brokerage business nor in any of the administrative affairs involved in holding accounts, tracking transactions, tax reporting, receiving and disbursing money, and so on. Realistically I don't think that is workable and as long as you are transacting people's affairs you have to do it without making a constant drumbeat of minor to egregious errors with people's asset holdings. Not screwing up peoples financial affairs is a little more than just a priority.

However, as long as enough people transact at Vanguard to move the business along, there are many alternatives for anyone who wants to avoid doing business at Vanguard. It still remains to be clearly proved that Vanguard not just as good as anyone else in this department.

baroque
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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by baroque » Tue Jan 05, 2016 10:37 am

I am also very disappointed in Vanguard's CSR's. I am a Voyager client.
I invested in Vanguard in July 2015 with my Rollover IRA.
I chose the Money Managed avenue.
When I call Vanguard I expected more individual financial advice.
Once the funds were set up by the Money Managers there did not appear
to be much advice beyond this. After speaking with 4 representatives
I concluded and stated to the 4th that all CSR's are following the same script.
In all 4 conversations, I stated that I may have made a mistake with the investing
since I did not consider myself a long time investor. I am already retired.
When the markets started bouncing and I lost money since July 2015,
I did not receive any advice on fixed rate income and was very much advised
against CD's etc. I did not receive any information beyond investing in stocks
and bonds. I finally sold right before Xmas and now my money is sitting
in Vanguard's money market fund. I am hoping they will call and offer advice
for a 3 year window to invest, i.e. CD but I do not understand 'brokeraged' CD's.
I am thinking about moving funds to Discover for a higher CD rate for 3 years,
not brokeraged. I am waiting to see if interested rates increase.
I believe the CSR's are interns and young with no idea how to safely invest
retirement savings post retirement. I will be very happy with a 2% return
for 3 years rather than a 3% loss or gain with risk.
I am very happy to find this blog. I am not a financial expert but I know finding
a way to make money safely is much better than risk and losing earnings every 5 years.
I appreciate the posts on this blog and will consult regularly.

Ellie
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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by Ellie » Tue Jan 05, 2016 10:51 am

First, I'll add my tale of woe....I am almost 3 months in on transferring my solo 401(k) and defined benefit plan to Vanguard. Not only are the transfers not complete, but Vanguard has made a multitude of mistakes along the way resulting in money being mis-characterized. Doing my taxes is going to be a bit of more challenging as a result. My rep has now taken over all internal communications with the transfer team to avoid my blood pressure from continuing to sky rocket every time the transfer team communicates with me. And, no, this is not a situation of the people being good, but the system failing them. It is the people handling my transfer who are the issue: no problem solving, no follow up, no confirming of details with information I've previously provided.

So, as for this:
Investing Newbie wrote:Vanguard still a good way to go?


In spite of it all, I am still bullish on Vanguard. I know many people who have great customer and investment experiences with them, and I am willing to believe that my experience is more the exception than the rule.

The reality is that no company's customer service is perfect. And for a company that handles a high volume of transactions, even a small % of customer service failure results in tens (maybe hundreds) of thousands of mistakes. I try to keep this in mind whenever I hear about customer service complaints on the Internet.

Now if once the transfers are complete, I continue to have customer service issues, Fidelity will be my first call. But, my experience tells me that all of these large companies are the same, and challenges will exist at Fidelity too. Changing companies would be exchanging one set of issues for another.

-Ellie
Best thing that ever happened to me was being too busy in 2008 to pay attention to my portfolio.

Quark
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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by Quark » Tue Jan 05, 2016 11:54 am

dbr wrote:
Quark wrote:Better customer service would be more expensive, which means higher fees, which means lower returns. Which you prefer depends on your priorities.

There is a point of view that maybe Vanguard should be a manager of mutual funds and not engage in the brokerage business nor in any of the administrative affairs involved in holding accounts, tracking transactions, tax reporting, receiving and disbursing money, and so on. Realistically I don't think that is workable and as long as you are transacting people's affairs you have to do it without making a constant drumbeat of minor to egregious errors with people's asset holdings. Not screwing up peoples financial affairs is a little more than just a priority.

In my experience, Vanguard always corrects mistakes, usually rather quickly after you notice them and escalate within Vanguard.

Tracking, tax reporting and some other services are rather inexpensive to implement - they are automated systems. Things that require human intervention or interaction appear to be the issue.
dbr wrote:However, as long as enough people transact at Vanguard to move the business along, there are many alternatives for anyone who wants to avoid doing business at Vanguard. It still remains to be clearly proved that Vanguard not just as good as anyone else in this department.

My sense is that Vanguard is the fastest growing mutual fund company in terms of attracting and retaining invested dollars. In any event, they are successful enough to believe they don't have to improve customer service.

plantdr
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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by plantdr » Tue Jan 05, 2016 12:45 pm

I was listening to Clark Howard a few months ago, and he recommended that the caller open a Vanguard account. I then discovered this forum and have been hooked ever since. I opened my Vanguard account 2 months ago. I transferred the money from Wells Fargo Advisers without a hitch. I have had no issues whatsoever. OTOH, my poor husband has not been so lucky. He has been with a friend at Edward Jones for about 10 years. I checked out the front loads and rear load funds that he was invested in and told him that is no friend of his. I coerced him into opening a Vanguard account. That is when the fun began. I had him initiate transfer from his EJ account. We waited a month with nothing. An account was or was not open, we still can't figure it out. The prompt kept telling him to open his account. He called and they said that there was an account. Every time he logged on, it prompted to fill out the same form over and over again (at least 5 times). I had him call Vanguard again. They still couldn't figure out what was wrong. Well, the last time the form asked for investment amount. He was still trying to transfer that money from EJ so he input $5080 for Roth which money that was already withdrawn from our account and the money that he is still trying to transfer from EJ and Vanguard took that amount from the checking account. We are now way over the Roth limit for the year. They drafted money twice out of our checking account without him having an account open with Vanguard. They have since opened the account, but issues still remain. He called again and got someone that he thought knew what they were doing, but we are still waiting for the money to get back into the checking account. He still needs $420 to max out his Roth for last year, but I am afraid to do anything out of sequence and Vanguard won't allow any more money to be put in because we are way over the limit. The money is still in EJ account. We are out $5080 (not technically, but practically), and we are way over his Roth contributions, and it is now past the new year. We are still in the middle of it with no resolution in sight. I have no idea how we could have such different experiences. I still believe in Vanguard, but a weaker person would have opened a Fidelity account by now.

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TimeRunner
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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by TimeRunner » Tue Jan 05, 2016 1:38 pm

rustymutt wrote:My 2016 resolution was to not complain, or argue in 2016 and beyond.

I'm very happy with the service I receive from Vanguard. That said, there's always room for improvements. The lower cost at Vanguard is why I went them. I enjoy helping to train their customer service reps.

:happy

That is a fine New Year's resolution and a positive attitude to be acclaimed. Huzzah!
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PB
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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by PB » Tue Jan 05, 2016 1:56 pm

Investing Newbie:

My complaints started this most recent discussion, and regardless, I encourage you to open a Vanguard account. I'm in my late 50's, and have a lot of experience with different brokerages and mutual fund companies. Bottom line: you won't find a better selection of well-run, low-cost mutual funds & ETF's anywhere. In addition, Vanguard's corporate structure is uniquely aligned with its fund investors (as opposed to its corporate owners), which cannot be underestimated. It is essential that you get the conflict-free assistance Vanguard offers.

So, it's never easy to complain, but sometimes their problems seem more a result of arrogance than growth. They must not get complacent. They must not take their enormous success for granted. They need to do a better, less disruptive job of managing their systems. And please everyone, I'm tired of hearing that doing a good job means less return for fund holders. I, for one, would tolerate a .001 ER increase if that's what it takes. Because with the billions of dollars Vanguard manages, an increase along these lines is all it would take.

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mickeyd
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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by mickeyd » Tue Jan 05, 2016 2:28 pm

My Flagship CS experiences compare favorably with my USAA CS experiences. Both have been cordial, timely and accurate. Which is all that I demand.
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clearwater
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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by clearwater » Tue Jan 05, 2016 2:58 pm

I've had accounts with Fidelity, Schwab, and a bunch of smaller brokerage firms going back to the early '90s. Fidelity and Schwab are exceptional.

I've spent a lot of time and energy trying to understand if it's worth moving to Vanguard and finally concluded they seem to be in over their heads when it comes to directly working with customers. I've come to appreciate good service as I get older, and would consider Fidelity and Schwab probably the best all around. Calls are answered promptly, you get answers to questions without any fuss, and the technology all works.

This is simply a place where you get what you pay for. I'll pay the $8 per ETF trade a few times a year when rebalancing, since for $50 or less total per year when everything just works, is a bargain. I'd pay hundreds of dollars to avoid dealing with some knucklehead who keeps me on the phone an hour.

And nowadays, both Schwab and Fidelity have index funds to match Vanguard at nearly the same cost, the only difference is the underlying index provider. Does it make much difference? In a three fund portfolio, probably not.

Vanguard is kind of like General Motors. They can make the guts of the thing they're selling, and it seems to work "ok". But sales and any other customer facing activities are just something to be avoided at all costs. Fidelity and Schwab are kind of like Honda -- not exciting, but everything works, including the service department, and random parts don't start failing when you need them the most.

PB
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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by PB » Tue Jan 05, 2016 4:02 pm

Clearwater:

The problem with firms like Fidelity is that they have an incentive to suck investors -- including newbie investors -- into so-called "free" advisory services. But the services are not free, and they appear to be ridden with conflicts.

Here is a link to Fidelity's Wealth Advisor Solutions:

https://www.fidelity.com/wealth-managem ... -solutions

The "Big Print" sounds great, of course… "Your Fidelity financial consultant will work with you each step of the way," and they provide details regarding their "Specialized Services," "Personalized Advice" and "Trusted Advisors."

Then there's the fine print at the bottom of the page:

* The Fidelity Wealth Advisor Solutions® program ("the Program") is provided without charge as a convenience to you by Strategic Advisers, Inc. (SAI), a Fidelity Investments company. In no event shall SAI providing the names of one or more registered investment advisers (RIAs) constitute an endorsement, recommendation, or opinion as to the quality or appropriateness of the RIA or the related advisory services. SAI acts as solicitor to the RIAs in the Program, and receives solicitation fees from the RIAs as a result of their participation. RIAs are not affiliated with or agents of SAI or any other Fidelity Investments company, but they are Fidelity Investments customers and their clients compensate Fidelity Investments for custody, clearing, or other brokerage services....

In other words -- and please correct me if I'm misreading this -- Fidelity Wealth Advisor Solutions® will assist you for free, but in no event do they endorse the quality or appropriateness of the advice. In addition, they solicit the advisors, and participating advisors must pay a fee to receive client referrals. Therefore, the advisors are not employees or even representatives of Fidelity -- they are paying customers.

Even more: the big print says that advisors gain access to Fidelity's "proprietary trading tools for deep analysis and research." But then again, the fine print clarifies that therefore the advisors' clients do pay fees to Fidelity for custody, clearing or other brokerage services.

The bottom line appears to be this: if advisors pay the required "membership" fee, Fidelity will provide them with clients and brokerage tools. These tools further enable the advisors' clients to pay ongoing fees to Fidelity in the form of ongoing custody, clearing or other brokerage fees. In no event does Fidelity endorse the quality or appropriateness of the advice.

The Big Print makes little, if any, of this clear.

Maybe I'll follow-up re Schwab a little later.

dbr
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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by dbr » Tue Jan 05, 2016 4:14 pm

Yes, one of the tricks that must be mastered in using many of the available brokerages is to not enter into an advisory relationship with them. Of course Vanguard also sells the opportunity to sign up and pay for advisory services, but the cost is less.

bikechuck
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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by bikechuck » Tue Jan 05, 2016 4:38 pm

I had a bit of a rocky start with Vanguard this year when I first invested with them. I opened a VG Roth IRA and transferred after tax 401K money to this ROTH. When I checked online to see that the money transferred properly I noticed that they mistakenly put the money in a regular IRA rather than a ROTH IRA.

I called them, they acknowledged the mistake was theirs and they corrected it by moving the money to a ROTH. I am just hoping that when I receive my tax documents that they are all correct and if so I have to say their customer service was pretty good. I found it easy to get to the right person when I called for help and they were polite, professional and helpful in correcting the problem. Anyone can make mistakes, not everyone readily takes responsibility for them and corrects them as easily as happened in this case.

PB
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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by PB » Tue Jan 05, 2016 4:44 pm

Agreed, dbr. The trick is to never enter into a "free" advisory relationship. Nothing is free.

1. Vanguard is upfront about their (low) advisory fee. All good advisors are upfront about how they make their money -- they don't hide it in the fine print.

2. Vanguard does not send you to an independent advisor who has essentially paid for the referral.

3. Vanguard's BIG PRINT encourages investors to keep their trades to a minimum, and their overall costs as low as possible. Because Vanguard gets paid directly by their clients (and because of their corporate structure), they have less incentive to gouge clients with less-than-upfront brokerage services and fees.

clearwater
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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by clearwater » Tue Jan 05, 2016 5:05 pm

PB wrote:The problem with firms like Fidelity is that they have an incentive to suck investors -- including newbie investors -- into so-called "free" advisory services. But the services are not free, and they appear to be ridden with conflicts.


You can't trust any of these companies to look out for your own self-interest. Anyone who blindly trusts Vanguard, Fidelity, or any of these firms has misplaced enthusiasm.

I know people here are all behind Vanguard most of the time, but they've got plenty of active and inappropriate funds, too ... maybe someone needs a "Precious Metals and Mining Fund", but I don't know who. However, Vanguard stands ready to help!

And Vanguard's tools will tell (apparently) nearly everyone they should now also hold international bonds. Amazingly, that recommendation started when Vanguard had an international bond fund TO SELL.

Every one of these firms is in business to make a profit. Yes, even Vanguard. There's a reason that they don't disclose what the CEO makes, despite their dancing around the question constantly. (I suspect there would be plenty of complaints and possible customer defections if they had the truth. You can bet McNabb isn't taking the bus to work and brown bagging his lunch.)

I know, "owned by the investors", and all the rest, but honestly, this is primarily good Public Relations and great Marketing. If things are so great being owned by the investors, how come the same investor-owners can't get answers on the phone in a straight fashion? As an alternative, you can buy your index funds at Fidelity or Schwab and you get good service at low prices. The (NON-index fund) stock traders are the one making it possible, since they are bringing in the receivables. So why not get the better services (for quite nearly nothing, $8/ETF trade) by being a free rider?

Agreed that Fidelity or Schwab have products that might not be appropriate, but buyer beware and all that. As with any purchase, people need to do their own research and decide what's right for them. Even in Vanguard-land, otherwise everyone would suddenly have international bonds. Or if they thought Jack was right, they'd add more corporate bonds to Total Bond. Or if the thought Warren Buffett was right, they'd only use short-term Treasuries.

Vanguard is great for pioneering low cost index funds. But competition is great, too, and that's why you can now buy the near-equivalent from other firms. Until Vanguard improves their services as a custodian of funds, I'm not sure how anyone (despite the great PR about "fair shake") truly is better served than just buying low cost vehicles from Fidelity or Schwab, and not having the bad experiences outlined in earlier comments.

Personally, I've nearly switched to Vanguard three times. But every time, I read comments like those above, which is like a big flashing warning to stay away.

My advice to almost everyone is to start with Taylor's page on the Three Fund portfolio, then read the whole Wiki, then read the books on the list, then take three months to think about it all. Then, and only then, invest with a firm with which they feel comfortable doing business.

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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by rjm_cali » Tue Jan 05, 2016 6:31 pm

Must be something about the time of year. I've been held in hold hell and gave up - didn't even get hold music. Now I'm holding for brokerage services to ask them why they've not completed the account update they wanted me to do in the first place.

Good to know that Vanguard Brokerage Services is sorry about the delay...

PB
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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by PB » Tue Jan 05, 2016 6:32 pm

Clearwater:

Your point is well-taken that investors should be wary, regardless of their brokerage or mutual fund company (Vanguard included). Investors must educate themselves before investing or they will get taken. It's that simple. The financial regulations allow it, and Wall Street's only mission is to exploit the regulations at our expense. Buyer beware is good advice, indeed.

Nor can I argue with your specific advice to "start with Taylor's page on the Three Fund portfolio, then read the whole Wiki, then read the books on the list, then take (time) to think about it all." Excellent advice, indeed.

But in important ways, Vanguard is not the same as Fidelity. Or Schwab. Or Wells Fargo, or many of the large investment firms. To suggest otherwise is a disservice to new investors.

I gave one example of Fidelity's Advisory Services, vs. Vanguard's. The differences between the two services are as real as the difference between the Fiduciary and Suitability standards. (New readers, please, if you don't know the difference between these two standards, learn about them before you do anything else. Learn about Registered Investment Advisors and Broker-Dealers, too. Because the regulations allow Broker-Dealers to dispense advice, and most large firms are staffed by Broker-Dealers, not Investment Advisors. And Broker-Dealers must adhere only to the Suitability standard, which means they do not have to act in your best interest.)

Here's another real-world example, a personal lesson I learned the hard way.

Years ago I had a SEP IRA at Wells Fargo. They pitched their "free" advisory services and I was naive. So what did they recommend to me, what did I end up buying?

For one, several individual corporate bonds sold on the secondary market. I knew nothing about the difference between the primary and secondary markets, and they had no obligation to disclose the differences or act in my best interest (because they are broker-dealers, not fiduciaries). Nor did they disclose the large purchase fees that my advisor received as commissions. Very large commissions that undermined my returns from the outset.

For another, they pitched complex index-based CD's -- Wells Fargo CD's, of course. The CD's performed terribly, because it was in Wells Fargo's best interest for them to perform terribly. They paid out much less interest than the indexes suggested, because the payout formulas were rigged, and that's all there is to it.

Towards the end, they started pitching very complex annuities, and that was it. I finally realized I was the sucker at the table. I started learning about the players and the game, found my way to the Bogleheads Forum and ultimately to Vanguard.

Last but not least, I eventually recommended Vanguard to my brother and truth be told, the transfer was problematic. But more importantly, he decided to use their advisory services. Did Vanguard recommend commission-driven bonds or rigged CD's? Of course not. They recommended a "core-four" portfolio comprised of low-fee, transparent index funds with no front-end or back-end loads. Very much like the 3-fund portfolio you recommend, because only time will tell if Vanguard is right about international bonds, as they were in 2015. And you know what else they recommended? That he stay the course and not accrue expensive trading fees, exactly the opposite of my Wells Fargo advisor.

The bottom line is that most large investment firms are less transparent than Vanguard, because their advisors are Broker-Dealers. This lack of transparency is enabled by the Suitability Standard governing Broker-Dealers and it allows these firms to exploit investors. It's crooked, but it's legal. So yes, buyer beware.

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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by jhfenton » Tue Jan 05, 2016 6:54 pm

I have my own new complaint this evening about Vanguard's systems and customer service.

Here's the "short" version as best I can tell it:

1. Yesterday I initiated two exchanges to make our January Roth IRA contributions of $550 each. (We're going to do 10 x $550 x 2 from January through October.)

2. For my wife, I did a simple exchange of $550 of VMLTX (Vanguard Limited-Term Tax Exempt) in our joint taxable account to $550 of VEMAX (Vanguard Emerging Markets Index Admiral) in her Roth IRA. I choose for it to be a 2016 Roth IRA contribution. (We have mutual full agent authorizations in place.)

3. For my Roth, I first bought 3 shares of VSS in my Roth for $275.07. Once I had had that number, I initiated an exchange of $550 from VMLTX in our taxable account to $275.08 of VSIAX (Vanguard Small Cap Value Index Admiral) and $274.92 to the settlement fund, both in my Roth IRA. (I had $0.15 already in the settlement fund that I wanted to absorb.) Again, I choose 2016.

4. I checked at 7:30 AM this morning when I got to work, and everything looked right. The sales of VMLTX went through. The purchases of VEMAX and VSIAX went through. The shares matched my calculations. And there were "Pending Transactions" showing cash exchanges between the accounts.

5. By 9:45 AM or so, when I logged in to invest a dividend with a payable date today, I noticed that the pending exchanges were gone. Our taxable account showed an $1,100 credit balance, and the Roths each showed $550 debit balances. (And our IRAs show $0 contributions for 2016, whereas they showed $550 each after placing the orders yesterday.)

6. At 4:05 PM, we each receive warning messages that we have debit balances, must correct them by 01/11/16, and may face restrictions on our accounts.

7. I then spent 55 minutes on the phone with a hapless Voyager CSR who puts me on hold 3 separate times for >10 minutes each while he talked to folks in various departments. He finally came back and claimed that everything is fine and says that it should be fixed overnight. (There was zero wait to get to a CSR.)

Needless to say I lack complete confidence that it will all be fixed in the morning.

I was quite happy with how the system let me enter the orders yesterday. I was able to do what I wanted in just a few steps. Vanguard let me place the ETF buy in a Roth IRA before transferring the money to cover it. That let me place one exchange from taxable into the Roth and know exactly how much to transfer to the settlement fund and how much was left to exchange to another mutual fund.

Then we get warning messages, and I waste an hour of my time only to be told that we can ignore the messages.

Sigh. I really am a fan, and I don't need a lot of bells and whistles. But I do need a simple system that works.

(My other minor complaint is the Vanguard iOS app. I run my iPhone and iPad in French, so localized apps appear in French and the system localizes numbers automatically according to the declared field type. So when you enter a number into a dollar-denominated field, it's formatted according to French localisation for dollars. So entering 550 into the order amount field in the Vanguard app results in that number being automatically reformatted as $ 550,00. There's no way around it. And the Vanguard app can't deal with that. It pops up an error and won't let you proceed.)

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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by rjm_cali » Tue Jan 05, 2016 7:05 pm

I think it would be fair to say that my confidence in Vanguard is a little dented. Having got nagged online to change to the new brokerage account structure (with the implicit statement that it would be changing anyway in the new year) I followed the process and moved my roth funds into a new shiney new roth ira brokerage account. That seemed pretty straightforward.

The rest of my funds are in a living trust so first I had to send off account forms to set up a new brokerage account (I was beginning to wonder why I was going through this rigmarole by this point) and instructions to move the trust fund en masse to the brokerage account.

The fund don't get transferred so I rang them earlier (twice) and having been on hold for 15 mins I finally got through to a CSR who didn't seem to understand what had gone before or what I wanted. I thought it was really easy - just do as was done before - transfer the funds from one sub-account to another. Having sent me to an online page of forms with no clue as to which one I needed to fill out he then started rambling about doing a fund exchange.

It was at this point I thought no. I'm going to leave them where they are until you tell me I have to move them to the new account structure. Let's leave it until Vanguard need me to do it. Not the other way around.

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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by sawhorse » Tue Jan 05, 2016 7:15 pm

I've had frustrating experiences with Vanguard customer service, but I've never been on hold more than a few minutes. It's interesting that so many people have. Might it be worse for higher tier customers?

In my experience, the best time to call is around 11am their time. I understand that's not realistic for everyone.

A large proportion of Vanguard reps are undertrained. Very polite and wanting to help but not knowing enough. You can usually tell by the lack of confidence in their answers ("Um, I think that means...um....").

There is always someone who knows their stuff inside out. You need to get "the one" on the phone. While they always speak confidently, not everyone who speaks confidently is the one. You can tell if they're the one, as opposed to just a confident sounding person, by their ability to get things done right away, most often while you're on the phone with them. They can also tell you precisely how long it'll take to show up in your online account and also tell you what to look for when you log in and also what to ignore. They won't say, "3 to 5 business days". They'll say, "Thursday afternoon most likely, so call if it's not there by Friday at noon."

This is purely my experience, one out of millions of customers. I don't have a brokerage account. Based on what people on this board have said, it sounds like a mess.

Also, I've had pretty good experiences using their online message feature.

Polymath
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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by Polymath » Tue Jan 05, 2016 7:21 pm

I've been tracking Vanguard at glassdoor.com. Lots of complaints from disgruntled long term workers (claimed). Never a good sign for future service trends IMO.
Last edited by Polymath on Wed Jan 06, 2016 12:28 am, edited 1 time in total.

PB
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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by PB » Tue Jan 05, 2016 7:25 pm

Let me say this again to people considering a new Vanguard account:

Do not let these customer service issues deter you from opening an account. The CS issues can be frustrating, but they do not outweigh the value of Vanguard's investing principles and processes. I sincerely believe that over your investing lifespan, Vanguard can earn you tens if not hundreds of thousands dollars -- additional dollars -- depending on how much you have to invest.

To Vanguard:

Please get your act together. Do not take your success for granted. Do not stray from your principles and put your customers second. History is filled with great companies falling by the wayside due to complacency and arrogance. I am a fan, but you're testing my patience. And from the look of things, you're testing a lot of peoples' patience.

Retiring baby boomers have time to move our accounts. Please get your act together.

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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by edge » Tue Jan 05, 2016 7:27 pm

Yes, the CSRs could be improved. However, what is causing most of your problems is a completely obsolete set of IT platforms. The CSRs mostly have to pick up the pieces...

You may think the website is substandard compared to Fidelity (which it is, but only by degrees). However, the real problem is in their core account management platforms.

Here is my most recent problem (of dozens):

I noticed some extreme weirdness with my annual 5500 x2 non-deductible IRA contribution to prepare for ROTH conversion. Instead of showing 5500 into my account and 5500 into my wife's, for a day or so it showed $11000 into each which would be a problem, obviously. From our joint taxable account it showed only 11000 total transferred. So somehow the system created an additional 11000$ somewhere by itself. The CSR had no idea and said she would call me back. By magic it was fixed a day or two later. She didn't get back to me though.
Last edited by edge on Tue Jan 05, 2016 7:32 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by jhfenton » Tue Jan 05, 2016 7:28 pm

PB wrote:Let me say this again to people considering a new Vanguard account:

Do not let these customer service issues deter you from opening an account. The CS issues can be frustrating, but they do not outweigh the value of Vanguard's investing principles and processes. I sincerely believe that over your investing lifespan, Vanguard can earn you tens if not hundreds of thousands dollars -- additional dollars -- depending on how much you have to invest.

I agree completely. We've only been customers since October, and we've had a few bugs. But I have no desire to move elsewhere, despite having spent the previous 20 years enjoying great customer service at TD Waterhouse -> TD Ameritrade.

PB wrote:To Vanguard:

Please get your act together. Do not take your success for granted. Do not stray from your principles and put your customers second. History is filled with great companies falling by the wayside due to complacency and arrogance. I am a fan, but you're testing my patience. And from the look of things, you're testing a lot of peoples' patience.

Retiring baby boomers have time to move our accounts. Please get your act together.

:beer

2015
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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by 2015 » Tue Jan 05, 2016 8:03 pm

Investing Newbie wrote:As somebody that is going to be opening my first IRA and eventually taxable account soon, I'm concerned to hear these issues. Which company tends to have good customer service and ease of online account management? At first I'm definitely going to have simple questions to ask about the mechanics of rebalancing, etc.

I was looking forward to signing up with Vanguard given the vast majority of recommendations involve Vanguard funds, but should be easy enough to find other provider equivalents of Three Fund Portfolio.

Vanguard still a good way to go? Obviously in this population the results are going to be skewed, but would be interested in other opinions.


I moved everything to VG a few years ago. I've had none of the problems listed above. I've never had a single call where the CSR's weren't knowledgeable, friendly, and helpful. In fact, I just made a distribution last week that went flawlessly. In a separate transaction, I later executed tIRA to Roth conversions by opening 3 new Roth accounts (the losing 2 of which to be recharacterized later this year) over the phone which took all of 5 minutes. CSR pre-populated the paperwork during the call and then waited patiently while I opened all 3 notifications in my account and completed the transactions. All of which would have gone flawlessly except someone-who-shall-remain-nameless screwed up completing the online transaction after the CSR got off the phone. :oops: No problem: called VG the next day after noticing my screw-up and they fixed it in less than 5 minutes. In the same call, I also enrolled in VG's new phone password option, which I really like.

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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by Swimmer » Tue Jan 05, 2016 8:10 pm

PB wrote:Let me say this again to people considering a new Vanguard account:

Do not let these customer service issues deter you from opening an account. The CS issues can be frustrating, but they do not outweigh the value of Vanguard's investing principles and processes. I sincerely believe that over your investing lifespan, Vanguard can earn you tens if not hundreds of thousands dollars -- additional dollars -- depending on how much you have to invest.

To Vanguard:

Please get your act together. Do not take your success for granted. Do not stray from your principles and put your customers second. History is filled with great companies falling by the wayside due to complacency and arrogance. I am a fan, but you're testing my patience. And from the look of things, you're testing a lot of peoples' patience.

Retiring baby boomers have time to move our accounts. Please get your act together.



Well said!

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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by jhfenton » Tue Jan 05, 2016 8:18 pm

2015 wrote:
Investing Newbie wrote:As somebody that is going to be opening my first IRA and eventually taxable account soon, I'm concerned to hear these issues. Which company tends to have good customer service and ease of online account management? At first I'm definitely going to have simple questions to ask about the mechanics of rebalancing, etc.

I was looking forward to signing up with Vanguard given the vast majority of recommendations involve Vanguard funds, but should be easy enough to find other provider equivalents of Three Fund Portfolio.

Vanguard still a good way to go? Obviously in this population the results are going to be skewed, but would be interested in other opinions.


I moved everything to VG a few years ago. I've had none of the problems listed above. I've never had a single call where the CSR's weren't knowledgeable, friendly, and helpful. In fact, I just made a distribution last week that went flawlessly. In a separate transaction, I later executed tIRA to Roth conversions by opening 3 new Roth accounts (the losing 2 of which to be recharacterized later this year) over the phone which took all of 5 minutes. CSR pre-populated the paperwork during the call and then waited patiently while I opened all 3 notifications in my account and completed the transactions. All of which would have gone flawlessly except someone-who-shall-remain-nameless screwed up completing the online transaction after the CSR got off the phone. :oops: No problem: called VG the next day after noticing my screw-up and they fixed it in less than 5 minutes. In the same call, I also enrolled in VG's new phone password option, which I really like.

To be fair, I've mostly had a good experience too. With the help of a CSR, I initiated and completed 5 total in-kind account transfers from TD Ameritrade to Vanguard on Columbus Day Monday, and it was a completely smooth and quick process. Everything disappeared from from TD Ameritrade Tuesday evening. Everything appeared at Vanguard on Friday. And by Monday morning (a week from initiation), everything was settled and ready to trade. They helped confirm that I could sell Vanguard ETFs and invest the proceeds in Vanguard mutual funds immediately, despite the T+3 -> T+1 discrepancy. As I said earlier, I like the flexibility to place an ETF buy in an IRA and then transfer the money in. TD Ameritrade would never let us do that.

Today was the first major system glitch I have seen, and it was the first time a CSR was not helpful on the phone. (I did have a bad experience with sending them a secure message a month ago. They didn't respond for a week, and then they responded with a scripted answer that had nothing to do with my question. Only after I complained in another message did someone helpful call and talk to me.)

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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by sawhorse » Tue Jan 05, 2016 8:35 pm

PB wrote:Let me say this again to people considering a new Vanguard account:

Do not let these customer service issues deter you from opening an account. The CS issues can be frustrating, but they do not outweigh the value of Vanguard's investing principles and processes. I sincerely believe that over your investing lifespan, Vanguard can earn you tens if not hundreds of thousands dollars -- additional dollars -- depending on how much you have to invest.

To Vanguard:

Please get your act together. Do not take your success for granted. Do not stray from your principles and put your customers second. History is filled with great companies falling by the wayside due to complacency and arrogance. I am a fan, but you're testing my patience. And from the look of things, you're testing a lot of peoples' patience.

Retiring baby boomers have time to move our accounts. Please get your act together.


Bravo! Totally agree.

Once the money lands in the account, which I know can be frustrating and time consuming, you have access to the highest quality fund lineup in the country. Vanguard is the only investment company with no truly awful funds. They have some that I wouldn't invest in, but they still aren't awful. The vast majority are downright awesome. Of course, you always need to diversify and be informed about any fund.

Then again, Vanguard isn't the only place that offers low cost index funds. You can get low cost index funds elsewhere, in no small part due to Bogle's revolutionary actions. Those companies make money by charging more for active management - way more than Vanguard charges for their superior active funds. If you're not using active management, that's not a problem for you.

That brings me to the next point. With serious index fund competitors, Vanguard needs to realize that their unique selling proposition is gone. Fix up the IT problems and record keeping; enhance communication and coordination between the IT staff, call center, and mail room (since you make us use all three); get your security priorities straight (don't blow off and then fire an employee who pointed out to you that you were allowing false answers to security questions); train your well meaning reps more thoroughly; and decide once and for all how much you want brokerage and mutual fund accounts to be integrated.

I'll disagree on one slight point. I don't think the problems are due to "complacency and arrogance", just complacency, maybe mixed with carelessness and exacerbated by fragmentation.

I'll remind new members that this is not a Vanguard-specific forum. You can invest according to Vanguard's founding principles without a Vanguard account as long as you're informed and don't fall for sales pitches.
Last edited by sawhorse on Tue Jan 05, 2016 8:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by Horsefly » Tue Jan 05, 2016 8:37 pm

I don't have much experience with Vanguard. I had 3-4 fund holdings there for about 10 years. The rest of everything I have (529s, 2 RIRA's, 2 TIRA's, and our taxable account) are all at Fidelity, along with a fairly large family Trust Investment Partnership for which I am the managing Partner. A couple of years ago I moved the remaining Vanguard stuff to Fidelity, just for consolidation and simplification. This puts me well into the Fidelity "Private Client Group" level, and so I do have access to what is probably a better level of service. Having said that, here's my thoughts on Vanguard and Fidelity:
  • Although I admit my Vanguard experience was more limited, I find Fidelity's web site and all the tools they provide *MUCH* better than what I could find at Vanguard. Maybe it's all there, but I never saw it at Vanguard.
  • Even though I'm probably a tempting target for their asset management, I told the VP that was assigned to me 7 years ago that I wasn't interested, and just wanted to manage my own investments. After that point, and even though that VP has been replaced twice, no one has ever tried to sell me *ANYTHING*. I get invited to a dinner or lunch on their expense a couple of times a year, but so far it has been to get some feedback from me and not to sell me anything. They contact me maybe once or twice per year to ask if I need anything, but again: No sell job.
I don't mean to come across as a Fidelity fan-boy. I highly respect Vanguard, and think they are still setting the bar for low ER investing. I do think that Fidelity is working hard to get better in that regard, and for me - and for now - I see no reason to leave Fidelity.

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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by PB » Tue Jan 05, 2016 8:56 pm

sawhorse wrote:
I'll remind new members that this is not a Vanguard-specific forum. You can invest according to Vanguard's founding principles without a Vanguard account as long as you're informed and don't fall for sales pitches.


Thanks for the reminder, sawhorse. I couldn't agree more as long as you're informed and don't fall for sales pitches.

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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by dbr » Tue Jan 05, 2016 9:03 pm

Not falling for sales pitches is under our own control. Becoming a victim of service errors and even the occasional institutional nightmare is not.

However, I am not sure there is yet an objective assessment that people doing business at Vanguard have problems at a higher rate than do investors elsewhere. In fact, such data as exists may be rather the opposite.

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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by PB » Tue Jan 05, 2016 9:47 pm

I don't mean to stray off topic, but according to Vanguard's website, by the end of 2014 they had about $3 trillion under management ($3,000,000,000,000).

I am terrible with large numbers, so is it right to say that 0.001 percent of $3 trillion is $30 million?

If correct, this means that if Vanguard raised their expense ratios across the board by 0.001 percent -- not 0.01 percent, but 0.001 percent -- they would have an additional $30,000,000 to spend on their accounting, website and customer service systems? $30,000,000 a year?

Is this correct?

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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by LadyGeek » Tue Jan 05, 2016 9:53 pm

As noted in the tag line at the top of this forum, we follow the person - not the company.

For example, you can build a 3-fund portfolio from 10 providers who are not Vanguard: Three-fund portfolio
To some, the glass is half full. To others, the glass is half empty. To an engineer, it's twice the size it needs to be.

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Re: Vanguard Customer Service

Post by jhfenton » Wed Jan 06, 2016 7:52 am

And...the system problem did *not* correct itself overnight. Our joint taxable account still shows an $1,100 credit and our two Roth IRAs each still show a $550 debit.

I had a feeling that the rep just gave up after 55 minutes and three separate consultations with other departments. He couldn't figure it out so he punted.

I'll be calling them again in a few minutes. :annoyed

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