Vanguard Digital Advisor is a low-cost, streamlined money management platform to assist you in reaching your financial goals. Online account setup and management makes it easy for clients to get started with the investing process and puts them on a customized path that is in line with their financial objectives. While this tool is primarily for retirement planning, an annual update in March 2021 allows certain clients to plan for non-retirement goals as well.

Key Takeaways

  • Portfolios are customized and invested in, primarily, Vanguard Mutual Funds and ETFs.
  • Vanguard Digital Advisor creates a customized portfolio based on your responses to a series of questions. 
  • Low advisory and fund fees makes this type of account a very affordable money management option.
  • Automatic portfolio rebalancing makes this type of account low maintenance for the investor.
  • The main focus of Digital Advisor is investing for retirement planning.
Pros
  • Quick and easy account setup

  • Low-cost money management

  • Customized investing options

  • Automatic account rebalancing

  • 90-day free trial available for Digital Advisor

Cons
  • Ineligible investments in your current account rollover may need to be sold prior to funding your new Vanguard account

  • No trading in individual stocks

  • Not designed to provide a comprehensive financial plan

Overview

Account Minimum $3,000
Fees 0.15% annual net advisory fee 
Goal Setting  Retirement, general investing
Available Assets  Mutual funds, exchange traded funds, and collective investment trusts 
Interest Paid on Cash Balances  Dividends
Customizable Portfolio  No
View Portfolio before Funding  Yes 
Customer Service Yes, via phone or social media
Financial Advisor Available  No 
Cash Management  Money market, CDs, short-term bond ETFs 
Tax-Loss Harvesting  No
External Account Sync/Consolidation Limited, for goal-planning purposes only 
Mobile App  Android, iOS

Account Setup

Setting up your Digital Advisor account is streamlined and simple.  You will walk through some online questions regarding your investment goals to customize the portfolio that is right for you.  The factors considered when it comes to individualizing your portfolio are: 

  • Current age
  • Target retirement age
  • Risk tolerance
  • Loss aversion
  • Marital status
  • Single stock exposure

The minimum investment to open an account and get started is $3,000.  This can be new money that you are looking to invest, or you can fund your account by rolling over a previous investment account. When rolling over an existing account, there are a few things to consider though. Not all types of investments can be rolled over, and even if it can be rolled over, it will likely need to be liquidated to invest in the options available. The need to sell existing investments could result in tax implications, so contacting your accountant may be necessary before deciding to use an existing investment account.  

When setting up your investment account, it is helpful to get a complete look at your overall financial picture  To do this, Digital Advisor has partnered with a third-party provider, which enables clients to view external investment and banking accounts and see up-to-date information for non-Vanguard accounts through their Digital Advisor portal.  External account types you may choose to set up and view include:

It is important to remember that external accounts are not managed by Digital Advisor nor are they taken into consideration when rebalancing the portfolio or tax minimization strategies, however Digital Advisor does allow clients to use accounts for goal projection purposes.

As you walk through your account setup, you will have the opportunity to preview Digital Advisor’s initial investment recommendations before deciding whether to complete enrollment in this ongoing advisory service.

Goal Planning

When you set up your account, you will be asked to answer several questions about your investment goals. Once this is done, Digital Advisor will continuously manage your portfolio to keep you in line with your goals. From this initial information, Digital Advisor creates a “glide path” for you that will make appropriate changes to your portfolio as you move through life. This is one way that Digital Advisor optimizes your investing strategy based on your age and how close you are to retirement. For example, when you are a younger investor, your portfolio may contain a higher weighting in stocks, which are considered higher risk, but also have a high growth potential over time. As you move closer to retirement, the portfolio “glide path” will move more toward bonds and less-risky investments. However, if your goals change throughout life, you can go into your account at any time and update those changes. 

Account Services

Digital Advisor is primarily a retirement planning service. At this time, it does not offer any traditional banking services, such as checking, credit, or debit cards. It is convenient, however, to set up automatic deposits to this investment account from your current banking account. Additionally, unlike other retirement accounts, such as a 401(k), you are unable to borrow on the margin. 

Cash Management 

Clients receive dividends from their cash money market balances based on the yields of that money market. Most money markets pay out dividends monthly.

You may also choose to have cash transferred to the portfolio automatically, such as an automatic investment plan, or investment earnings, such as interest or dividend payments. The cash will be allocated based on the Digital Advisor’s investment strategy upon your next rebalancing opportunity. Rebalancing occurs periodically in your portfolio based on a systematic review on whether certain parameters relative to your target recommended asset allocation is prompted. 

Each day the market is open for trading, Digital Advisor will assess your portfolio for rebalancing opportunities. Typically, if any asset class is off the target allocation by more than 5%, the portfolio will be rebalanced to its target allocation. The good news is, this all happens automatically, so you never have to worry about it—and there is no additional charge for rebalancing. 

When you enroll, your account will be set up to receive dividend and capital gain distributions in cash to optimize rebalancing opportunities. Because Digital Advisor is currently only able to rebalance your Vanguard Brokerage Accounts by purchasing whole shares of ETFs, cash balances may remain in your settlement fund.  

Taking cash out of your account is simple, but transfers out will take approximately two to four days, so you will need to plan ahead. It is also important to note that taking cash out of your account can impact the ability to automatically rebalance if little or no cash funds are available.

Portfolio Construction

Your individualized portfolio is constructed based on your answers to the six questions answered during the account setup phase regarding factors such as: current age, target retirement age, risk tolerance, loss aversion, marital status, single stock exposure. Based on your answers to these questions, Digital Advisor will put together a portfolio customized for you and diversify your risk by automatically investing in ETFs, low-cost mutual funds, or collective investment trusts. Your portfolio can be invested in thousands of different securities across four major categories: U.S. stocks and bonds and international stocks and bonds.

Even after initial account set up, you can go back at any time and reevaluate your answers to those questions and make any necessary changes.

If you are looking for socially responsible investments, you're out of luck with Vanguard’s Digital Advisor. It is Vanguard’s policy though, to follow a regimented, research-based process to create a world-class product line with lasting investment value. The company also continually examines changing clients’ needs, regulatory developments, and shifting market and industry conditions.

Individual Stocks  No
Mutual Funds  Yes
Fixed Income  No 
REITs  No 
Socially Responsible or ESG Options  No 
ETFs  Yes 
Non-Proprietary ETFs  Yes 
Collective Investment Trusts Limited
Crypto, Forex  No

Portfolio Customization (Optional)

Portfolio customization is limited to retaking the questionnaire and changing your response on risk tolerance. This will prompt a new portfolio allocation, but there is no real customization beyond this basic approach.

Portfolio Management

Account Rebalancing—Periodically, your account will be rebalanced. What this means is that whenever your investment balance shifts more than 5% from the asset mix that you chose, Digital Advisor will automatically rebalance your investments to keep your account in line with your goals.

Tax-Loss Harvesting—While tax-loss harvesting is unavailable at this time, Digital Advisor does use tax-efficient strategies, such as low-turnover, tax-efficient Vanguard ETFs. The idea is to hold tax-efficient investments (i.e. broad-market stock index products) in taxable accounts and keep tax-inefficient investments (i.e. taxable bonds) in tax-advantaged accounts.

Viewing Portfolio Performance—Digital Advisor offers a streamlined platform so you can easily view account performance. You are also able to link other outside accounts to Digital Advisor for goal planning purposes (although Digital Advisor is not actively taking outside accounts into consideration with regards to account rebalancing). Digital Advisor also can run thousands of scenarios to help forecast the likelihood of meeting your retirement spending goals.   

Debt Payoff Calculator—This is another useful tool that Digital Advisor offers to help you figure out to payoff your debt in the most efficient way possible.

Automatic Rebalancing Periodically
Reporting Features Financial outlook, debt calculator, activity log 
Tax-Loss Harvesting  No
External Account Sinking/Consolidation Yes, but only for goal-planning purposes. 

User Experience

Desktop

Setting up and checking your Digital Advisor account online is easy. While this type of managed account is meant to be low-maintenance for the investor, you are able to log on any time to see your account performance or make changes to your goals. However, it is also meant to be highly personalized investment advice, providing a complete investment strategy. As such, Digital Advisor sends email reminders to clients to update their goals and account information. Additionally, Digital Advisor also issues regular educational emails, which present clients with Vanguard’s innovative understanding around the stock market and economy, financial planning topics, and investment-management themes.

Mobile App 

While there is not a specific app for Digital Advisor, Vanguard does have an app for retail accounts, where clients are able to access their Digital Advisor accounts. The company has optimized the platform, so that all Digital Advisor features and capabilities are just as accessible via your smartphone as they are on a desktop computer. The Vanguard app also includes all of your account information and makes it convenient to gain access to all of your external, self-managed, and managed accounts in one location.   

Customer Service

Having the ability to do everything online is convenient, but sometimes, you just need to talk to someone for clarification. The following are options to reach customer service for Digital Advisor:

  • Phone—through the Vanguard inquiry page you can type in the problem that you are having and they will give you a phone number to call for that issue. Representatives are available 8am-8pm EST, Monday through Friday.
  • Online Chat for prospective and current clients, via social media direct messaging

Security 

Vanguard offers several layers of security so you can rest easy knowing your private information is protected. Here are some of the key security protocols:

  • Encryption
  • Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) validation
  • Username and password protection
  • Account activity alerts
  • Security questions for user authentication
  • "Time-out" feature to protect user information
  • Masking digits to protect bank account information

Education

Vanguard Digital Advisor’s website offers several informative videos on how robo-advisors work and exactly what they are. Being a part of Vanguard, there is access to a plethora of investing articles. However, not all of the articles you find on Vanguard’s main website are applicable for the Digital Advisor account. For example, it is quite easy to find information on socially responsible investing or how to make trades from your smartphone, but neither of those articles apply specifically to the Digital Advisor platform and are only accessible though different types of Vanguard accounts. 

Fees 

As with any sort of financial advisory service, there are fees involved. However, Digital Advisor lets you try out the service for 90 days absolutely free. This allows you to see how the services work without having to pay the advisory fee. Vanguard also offers a tool to quickly estimate what you could expect in advisory fees for the year, based on your investment amount in your Digital Advisor account. 

While many of the mutual funds or exchange traded funds (ETFs) transaction fees are minimal or none, there are some fees that still may apply. All ETFs are subject to management fees and expenses, a securities transaction fee, as well as an account service fee.  Some mutual funds may charge special purchase or redemption fees, or even account service fees. A full list of potential mutual fund or ETF fees for investments within your Digital Advisor account can be found here.  

Of course, fees may vary in an ever-changing market, but you can feel confident that Digital Advisor ranks among the highest value and the lowest cost within the industry of robo-advisors.  If, however, you decide that you want to terminate your account, you are always free to do so without incurring termination fees.

Category Fee 
Annual Gross Advisory fee for $5,000 account $10
Annual Gross Advisory fee for $25,000 account  $50
Annual Gross Advisory fee for $100,000 account $200 
Termination fees  $0
Expense ratios  .05% (average)

Final Verdict

Vanguard Digital Advisor is aimed squarely at investors who want to set a portfolio and leave it. If you are looking for deeper customization or to access different asset classes through your robo-advisor, then Vanguard Digital Advisor is probably not for you. If you are looking to become a more passive investor, however, Vanguard's robo-advisor is more than up to the task.

Methodology

Our mission at Investopedia is to provide investors with reviews and ratings of robo-advisors that are comprehensive and unbiased. Our team of researchers and expert writers, led by Michael Sacchitello, spent months evaluating all aspects of a robo-advisor’s platform, including the account setup process, goal planning tools, account service options, portfolio construction offerings, portfolio management, mobile and desktop user experience, educational content, fees, and security. As part of this evaluation, we extract critical data points that are weighted by our quantitative model that produces a powerful star-scoring system.

With the individual investor in mind, we’ve designed a comprehensive ranking methodology to find the best overall robo-advisors and the best robo-advisors across nine key categories. Each advisor is then scored across multiple variables to rate performance in every applicable category. The score for the overall award is a weighted average of the categories.

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