When I joined Vanguard 29 years ago, the mutual fund industry was all about performance. The financial news media regularly lionized star fund managers such as Peter Lynch, John Neff, John Templeton, and Mario Gabelli, while fund companies touted past performance figures and Morningstar star ratings. Investors became conditioned to make fund purchase decisions based on performance.
Today, the focus is squarely on costs. Media headlines report the latest volley in the ETF fee war, and advertisements spotlight low costs rather than high returns.
Why the change? Two reasons: First, more and more investors have recognized that cost matters in achieving long-term investment success, and they’re beating a path to the low-cost fund door.
Vanguard, in particular, has been both a driver and a beneficiary of this cost-conscious revolution. A driver because we’ve been lowering the cost of investing for 40 years. A beneficiary because during the 12-month period ended October 31, 2015, Vanguard clients entrusted more than $247 billion to us, or about $7 out of every $10 invested in all mutual funds and ETFs. (Source: Vanguard, Strategic Insight.)
The other reason: Mutual funds have been lowering their prices. The media has dubbed this gravitational trend “The Vanguard Effect,” the tendency for investment providers to reduce expense ratios to compete with Vanguard.
Today, investors pay an average expense ratio of 1.02%. Of course, our clients pay a much lower average of 0.18%. To put expense ratios in dollar terms, the average mutual fund investor pays $102 for every $10,000 invested; the average Vanguard client pays $18. (Source: Vanguard and Lipper, a Thomson Reuters Company, as of December 31, 2014.)
Obviously, lower costs are good for all investors. But caveat investor. Costs are not universally low. Some firms selectively lower the prices on certain funds (at a loss for the firm) or temporarily lower expense ratios using fee waivers. In the midst of this holiday shopping season, I can’t help but think of doorbuster sales that get shoppers into a store.
Don’t be lured into one low-priced fund only to pay higher fees for other products and services. And check the fine print—fee waivers must be disclosed in prospectuses and websites.
Vanguard doesn’t play that game. You can benefit from our across-the-board, all-the-time low-cost leadership in any fund or service you use. It’s the way we’re built.
Get the latest on our expense ratio reductions.