Vanguard Personal Advisor Services (PAS) is everything that you would expect in a digital asset manager, plus unlimited access to a financial advisor. While this option is costlier than a standalone digital asset advisor, it is still a very low-cost option for the value that a financial advisor brings to the financial planning process.

Pros
  • Unlimited access to a financial advisor and automatic portfolio rebalancing included with advisory fee

  • More portfolio customization options are available to investors than with Vanguard Digital

  • Investors can hold individual stocks or mutual funds in PAS from a rollover account

  • Initial account setup can be done easily online

Cons
  • $50,000 in assets is required to enroll

  • Customer service is not 24/7

Key Takeaways

  • Vanguard PAS financial advisors are not paid commissions, so investors can feel confident that they are receiving unbiased advice.
  • Personalization and individual portfolio customization options are available to Vanguard PAS investors. 
  • The process of setting up an account, talking with an advisor, and selecting investments takes a few weeks.
  • PAS accounts can accommodate rollover investment holdings—investors are not required to liquidate outside investments.

Overview

Account Minimum  $50,000
Fees  0.30% of portfolio balance
Goal Setting  Retirement, college, buying a home, saving for vacation, etc. 
Available Assets  Individual accounts, IRAs, trust accounts, eligible employer-sponsored plan accounts 
Interest Paid on Cash Balances  Not disclosed, but idle cash is placed in money market funds 
Customizable Portfolio  Yes 
View Portfolio before Funding  Yes 
Customer Service  Phone, email, or video chat 
Financial Advisor Available  Yes, available daily 8am-8pm EST
Cash Management  Sweep to money market fund 
Mobile App  Android, iOS 

Account Setup 

Setting up a Vanguard PAS account is easy. But the full process does take a few weeks. You start by answering questions to ensure you are a fit for the program, including how much you are ready to invest and what you are looking to get from the advisor experience. Then you are given the option of booking an online meeting or phoning a representative for a further meeting. A financial advisor contacts you to get to know you a bit more and further customize your portfolio. Once the plan is created, you will meet with a financial advisor again and go over it before deciding if the plan and Personal Advisor Services is right for you. The account setup process is certainly prolonged compared to other digital investment advisors, but it is in keeping with Vanguard’s purpose of melding the digital investment management services with the traditional financial advisor experience. 

Goal Planning

Goal Planning is made easy with Vanguard PAS. When setting up your account, you will walk through what your financial goals are, as well as, time horizon, risk tolerance, and other important factors. Once a customized portfolio is put together, based on your financial goals, you can also use Vanguard’s proprietary simulation tool to project how your portfolio will potentially perform under certain market scenarios. If you choose retirement as a goal, for example, PAS will generate 10,000 scenarios with cash flows based on different models of investment returns, inflation rates, drawdowns, and so on, presented with the most statistically probable course. 

In order to get an aggregate financial picture though, the Personal Advisor Services allows investors to link external investment accounts, bank accounts, credit cards, loan accounts, and more to see your overall financial status in real time. This information also informs the goal forecasting, although Vanguard notes that the performance accuracy on externally held investment accounts is difficult to accurately predict. These external accounts are only linked for goal projection purposes; they are not taken into consideration for portfolio rebalancing or tax-loss harvesting.

Account Services

Vanguard PAS is fairly limited when it comes to account services. While it is easy to set up automatic deposits to your account from an external source, investors do not have traditional banking options or the ability to make individual stock trades in this type of account. Borrowing on the margin is not an available option at this time either.

Cash Management 

Investors receive dividends from their cash based on the yields of the money market, and most money markets pay out dividends monthly. It is also worth noting that investors are not required to hold a cash balance, but if there is a cash balance in the account, no fees are charged on those assets.

Portfolio Construction

The variety of investments investors can choose from in the Vanguard PAS is a step above what you typically have available with most robo-advisors. While you have the expected low-cost proprietary ETFs and mutual funds to choose from, Vanguard PAS is truly differentiating their product in the industry by offering private equity options and active equity funds to PAS investors. Additionally, Vanguard offers socially responsible/ESG options as well.

Individual Stocks No
Mutual Funds  Yes 
Fixed Income  Yes 
REITs  No 
Socially Responsible or ESG Options  Yes 
ETFs  Yes 
Non-Proprietary ETFs  No 
Active Equity Funds  Yes
Private Equity  Yes 
Crypto, Forex No 

Portfolio Customization

Portfolio customization with the help of a financial advisor is a distinguishing factor of Vanguard PAS compared to other robo-advisors. Unlike other digital investment advisors, the customization in Vanguard PAS is discussed with the financial advisor and then implemented, so it is not a fully digital process. It is worth noting that Vanguard’s financial advisors are not paid based on commissions from portfolio transactions, so they are impartial when it comes to offering advice on particular customizations to your holdings. 

Portfolio Management

While investors do have unlimited access to a financial advisor, the Vanguard PAS still functions as most robo-advisors when it comes to automatic rebalancing. Quarterly review of an investor’s portfolio takes place to see if the overall mix of stocks and bonds has moved more than 5% from the target range. If it has, then a rebalance occurs to get the portfolio back in line with your financial goals. External accounts that may have been linked to the Vanguard PAS are not taken into consideration when the rebalance occurs. The linking of external accounts to the Vanguard PAS account is only for goal planning purposes and investor convenience.

Tax-efficient investing is characteristic of the Vanguard PAS accounts. Per Vanguard, “the financial plan will aim to optimize the tax efficiency of the portfolio by recommending or allocating investments strategically among taxable and tax-advantaged accounts.” While tax-loss harvesting is currently unavailable to PAS investors, Vanguard does have future plans to make this option available.

Automatic Rebalancing Quarterly
Reporting Features  Online dashboard and annual checkups 
Tax-Loss Harvesting  No 
External Account Syncing/Consolidation  Yes, for goal planning purposes only. External accounts are not considered with regards to portfolio rebalancing 

User Experience

Desktop

The user desktop experience is relatively straightforward. Investors will start out by walking through a series of questions relating to investing goals, risk tolerance, and time horizon to get the process started. Once they have talked with a financial advisor and opened their account, investors gain access to a desktop dashboard that has several account features, highlighted by topic tabs along the top of the dashboard. 

In addition to logging in to check current account balances, users can easily see if they are on track for reaching their goals. Vanguard utilizes a green/yellow/red schema to indicate if your investing goals are still on target: green is good, yellow means your account is getting off track, and red means that you need to talk with your advisor to reassess and possibly reallocate your investments to get back on track. Vanguard also does an annual check-in to ensure investors who may not be accessing the personalized dashboard or reading quarterly emails are aware of their progress and comfortable with the current strategy. 

Mobile App 

Vanguard offers a mobile app for investor convenience as well. Usability of the mobile app is aimed at providing investors with primarily account tracking and goal planning information. PAS investors will also receive quarterly email updates and periodic calls from a financial advisor. 

Customer Service

While customer service is not available 24/7, Vanguard PAS offers a few standout account servicing options: setting up your portfolio with the help of a financial advisor and video chat. Many robo-advisors do not offer the additional layer of individualization that PAS does by being able to talk with a financial advisor to make sure the portfolio that is being set up is fully customized.

  • Phone line available 8am - 8pm Eastern Time
  • Email 
  • Part of the process to set up a PAS account is to meet with a financial advisor.
  • The website has FAQs that are very helpful for frequently asked questions.

Security 

Vanguard takes several measures to make sure that your personal information is kept safe: 

  • 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
  • Vanguard is a member of the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) and carries excess insurance. 

Education 

Vanguard has a library of tutorial videos to help investors with how to add features or do things within their account dashboard. They also offer calculators and simulation tools for investors to help them with investment analysis, retirement planning, and educational savings. Additionally, Vanguard offers videos and articles on investing in general. 

Investors will also find some very unique tools that are only available to Personal Advisor Services clients: a Medicare Match tool, Healthcare Estimator tool, and Social Security strategy tool. These features would be of particular interest to investors who are nearing retirement age. The Medicare Match is a questionnaire that helps guide the investor in the process of picking a Medicare plan. The Healthcare Estimator can also help investors calculate potential healthcare and long-term care expenses. Personal Advisor Services also offers a third-party operated Social Security strategy tool. 

Commissions & Fees 

Vanguard PAS is a digital investment manager plus the advice of a financial advisor. Even with the additional feature of unlimited access to a financial advisor, the fees are still relatively low, 0.30% of portfolio balance each year. Again, it is important to note the financial advisors are not paid on commission. There are expense ratios related to the funds within the portfolio, but those vary based on the investment.

Category Fee 
Management fees for $5,000 account NA
Management fees for $25,000 account  NA 
Management fees for $100,000 account  $300/year 
Termination fees  No 
Expense ratios  Low, vary based on investment 
Mutual funds  NA 

Final Verdict

Vanguard PAS is best for intermediate investors who have saved a nest egg and want some dedicated help to put a plan in place to reach their financial goals. Opening a PAS account takes a minimum $50,000 investment, which likely puts it out of reach for newer investors. For a seasoned saver looking to refine their saving strategy and put a plan in place to reach their financial goals, Vanguard PAS is a digital investment solution that comes with human support. The automatic quarterly rebalancing allows investors to take a more laid-back approach and not have to worry about the portfolio staying in line with their financial goals. The higher account requirements also give you access to a level of customization and investment options not available through Vanguard Digital. More importantly, the unlimited access to a financial advisor gives you the ability to discuss changes in financial goals or life events that may affect your investing strategy and adjust it with human help whenever necessary.

Vanguard PAS, like all of Vanguard’s offerings, is aimed at passive investors looking to collect near market returns over time. Active investors will have to look elsewhere. If you are looking for a passive investing solution with human support and have the $50,000, Vanguard PAS makes a compelling case with a competitive 0.30% fee and decades of experience behind its investment approach.

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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