I would call myself a “pack rat,” except the comparison might offend pack rats. For the most part, it’s not a good thing to have such a messy office. But on occasion I unearth something interesting. Like this screenshot of vanguard.com from shortly after its launch in 1995—not long after I joined the company. The 1995 site looks positively prehistoric now. But it hit home to me how much our site has evolved since then.

Vanguard Webpage 1995

In 1995, our website allowed you to … read. That was it. You could get info on your fund and a lot of static information on investing. Even so, we thought this was pretty cool. Personally, I thought in 1995 that this World Wide Web thing (remember when folks actually used all three “W” words?) was simply a fabulous tool for education. And Vanguard had always placed a premium on investor education and information. The thought was—and still is—that once someone understood the reasons for our investment philosophy, focused on having a long-term plan, became broadly diversified, and reduced the drag caused by costs, Vanguard would be the natural choice. A website, we thought, might give folks an opportunity to learn about these concepts.

Fortunately, our former chief executive, Jack Brennan, saw early on how the internet was tailor-made for Vanguard. We had long been a “virtual” company. But before the internet, that meant interacting with us over the phone and through the mail. Huge advances over the years in the web’s bandwidth made it possible for us to serve clients 24/7 in a highly cost-effective manner. This has played a big part in enabling Vanguard to continue to lower expense ratios. (From an average of 0.31 in 1995 to 0.20 in 2011.)*

Improvements and additions to the website continue rapidly, evolving and expanding with the needs of the clients who use it. In 1995, tablets and smartphones weren’t even on the horizon. Now, you can connect with us, not only any hour of the day, but also from almost anywhere. Instead of mailing or wiring money to your account, you can invest by depositing checks through your mobile device. The education we deliver ranges from static text, to interactive graphics and calculators, to video.

The changes will keep on coming thanks not only to evolving technology, but also to the feedback clients provide. Client feedback has enabled our web developers to make it easier to accomplish tasks or find information over the web.

We’ll continue to invest in our online operations, keeping pace with the needs of our clients, and making it as easy as possible to do business with us.

So I salute that old image of vanguard.com—from that humble beginning, it’s proven to be an amazingly powerful force for decreasing the cost and complexity of investing.

*Sources: Lipper Inc. as of December 31, 2011

Notes: All investing is subject to risk, including possible loss of principal. Diversification does not ensure a profit or protect against a loss.