Vanguard is well known as the retirement account behemoth and offers brokerage accounts as well. To put it simply, Vanguard’s brokerage service is perfect for keeping your retirement account and performing a monthly trade or two.
Vanguard’s brokerage platform holds your hand every step of the way and has a very readable and helpful glossary for those who don’t know what terms mean. If you’re looking for a place to hold your family’s accounts, retirement funds, or other long-term investments, Vanguard is a safe choice that you won’t regret.
Vanguard has a friendly account set up and first time user tutorial that you’ll get to go through when you log in for the first time. After you’re situated and have synched the relevant accounts, you see the account overview screen and main hub of the Vanguard platform.
If I had to pick one word for Vanguard’s hub screen and platform aesthetic, it would be “quiet.” Nothing within the platform tries to grab your attention, and, in a sense, this makes using the Vanguard platform transcendently relaxing in comparison to others.
The Vanguard platform is simple and easy to understand. It’s also notable for refraining from assaulting you with numbers immediately after login. With Vanguard, all your information is siloed within the appropriate menu or tab, and it won’t leave.
Part of the reason that Vanguard excels for retirement investors is its willingness to let sleeping dogs lie. You’re not going to be shown an individual asset purchase’s relationship to your entire portfolio each time you make a trade.
Searching for the right investment
The asset research functionality of the Vanguard system is nonexistent. Gathering more information means reading through the public analyses that Vanguard has posted within its learning center. These analyses are milquetoast at best, but that might be right for your needs if you’re using the brokerage as a vehicle for your retirement. It’s possible to check the price of an ETF with a clunky system, but not much else.
You’ll find that Vanguard’s focus is on risk. How risky is the asset you’re looking at and does purchasing it fit into your account’s investing strategy? For amateur investors or traders with a long-term view, these guard rails are comforting.
For anyone beyond a basic level of trading and investing know-how, Vanguard’s brokerage platform will be too rudimentary and quite patronizing.
Not so tricky trades
Making trades with the Vanguard brokerage platform is quite simple. Notably, there’s no opportunity to bring any external research into your trade setup module, nor is there any ability to create trade templates or define the technical aspects of your trades.
Perfect for someone who doesn’t need to be bogged down by the details, but not so perfect for those who did extensive research and wants to define the terms of purchase. It’s hard to mess up a trade on the Vanguard platform, which is probably for the best.
The Vanguard web application is clunky, prone to crashing, and downright slow. Thankfully, there’s not enough complexity of your available actions to lose more than a minute or two of work.
Buying for the future
Vanguard’s trading platform reaches the common asset classes and provides some very basic information about bond maturity, expected growth, and historical performance. Most of the assets that you can buy via the Vanguard platform are described in depth in the glossary section. Vanguard offers many advisories on how to build the lowest-risk portfolio possible, and many of the platform’s design choices accommodate that goal.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Vanguard
- Probably free via a retirement package
- Low monthly fee
- Simple and calm
- Good glossary of terms
- Easy tax document generation
- Can link to outside financial advisors
- Can link to many outside accounts
- Hard to mess up trades and value transfers
- Difficult to overview asset distributions
- Difficult to overview multiple accounts
- Can’t save trade or transfer templates
- Difficult to set up multiple users
- Siloed information
- Very few technical features
- Clunky interface
- Glitchy interface
- No research capability
- No alert capability
- No graphing capability
- No modeling capability
- Slow trading
- No mobile app
Should you join the Vanguard?
If you’re looking for a place to stash your retirement or long-term investment funds, Vanguard is a decent choice. Many people originally get access to the Vanguard platform through their employer’s retirement plan, which means that the monthly price to use the platform can be as cheap as free.
Like many brokerages, you get what you pay for. The stiff trading fees probably aren’t a deterrent if you’re only interested in making trades a couple of times per month or less and don’t mind if the trades take quite a while to execute. Thankfully, the platform also is very transparent about trading fees and ensures that you know exactly how much you’ll be paying.
In the same vein, Vanguard isn’t a great choice for those who are interested in dabbling with day trading or learning how to make more complicated trades.
Vanguard isn’t a learning tool, nor is it a trader’s tool. To put it bluntly, there’s a good chance that the terms of your Vanguard brokerage account preclude you from performing actions like buying on margin or short-term hedging volatility with scheduled trades.
Even if you’re technically allowed to perform these trades, the Vanguard platform doesn’t have the granularity that traders need.
If you’re looking for an easy and friendly brokerage investment experience, don’t rule Vanguard out because of the issues that I’ve outlined in this article.
Despite its flaws, the Vanguard brokerage account is probably the right platform for a large segment of the non-trading population. You’ll probably be frustrated by the clunky interface, lack of mobile application, and the difficulty of adding users to your accounts, but these troubles aren’t the end of the world.
Vanguard can help you make safe investment decisions quite reliably, and you won’t become overwhelmed with technical terms or details.