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When Financial Advisor Fees Exceed Investor Returns

The goal of financial advisors and investment newsletters should be to empower customers to increase their investment returns after all fees paid by investors.  A key component of this is ensuring financial advisor costs and newsletter subscriptions are small relative to the investment returns being generated by these service providers' investment recommendations.  This is Job #1 at BondSavvy, where, for subscribers buying 5 bonds of each BondSavvy recommendation made from our first set of recommendations through our last on May 31, 2019, subscribers have achieved returns 35x our subscription fee, as shown here.  

Unfortunately, the opposite is true when investors use traditional financial advisors who charge 1% of assets and place investors in underperforming bond funds and bond ETFs.  This post shows the unfortunate case where financial advisors placing clients into the world's largest bond fund, Vanguard Total Bond Market Index Fund (Ticker: VBTLX) between 2015-2018 made more money in financial advisor fees than their clients did in after-fee investment returns.

Many people invest in fixed income through Vanguard bond funds or BlackRock iShares bond ETFs.  Unfortunately, bond fund returns are often weak, and these investments lack the many advantages of individual bonds. Many investors compound this problem by investing in bond funds through their financial advisors who charge 1% of client assets for the ‘service’ of placing clients into underperforming bond funds. Here’s how this works to benefit the financial advisor and Vanguard, but not the end investor:

Biggest Investment Mistake #1:

Investor invests $100k fixed income portfolio through a financial advisor not 'savvy' in bonds.

Biggest Investment Mistake #2:

Financial advisor, lacking any bond investing expertise, takes 1% annual fee and places $100k into a mega Vanguard bond fund, which, in turn, charges more fees.

An investor return lower than inflation

Due to the low Vanguard bond fund returns and the 1% annual financial advisor fees, the investor earns less return on his $100k investment than his advisor makes on annual fees.

Biggest Investment Mistake #3:

The $200+ billion Vanguard Total Bond Market Index Fund, which includes the Admiral Shares class (VBTLX), the BND ETF, and other share classes, is so big that it owns over 8,000 bonds and is not a discerning investor. It owns what the index tells it to own.  The bond fund averages a weak 1.63% annual return from 2015-2018.


After financial advisor fees and Vanguard mutual fund management fees, the investor averaged an annual return of 0.63%, as the financial advisor earned 1.0% on the client’s assets. From 2015-2018, the financial advisor who prescribed investing in Vanguard Total Bond Market Index Fund made $4,040 compared to the client’s $2,509 return on investment. This is a poor investor outcome no matter how you cut it, and we call it the Vanguard Bond Fund Road to Nowhere. It shows how important it is for individual investors to reduce costs and increase bond investment returns by making direct investments in individual corporate bonds.

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