Vanguard’s New All-in-One ETFs

April 1st, 2018 by Potato

Lots of people have been talking about Vanguard’s all-in-one ETFs that launched fairly recently. Dan @CCP talked about them in the back half of this podcast (and the first half is with me if you missed it :), and has a whole separate post on them, and likely will have another in the future as they’re generating a lot of discussion and questions.

In general, I like them: for a modestly higher MER, you get a one-stop investment portfolio.

One point I really like about them that hasn’t been talked about much is the fact that there is only one thing to look at for your portfolio. We talk a lot about the importance of having balance and diversification — so much in bonds, for example, to limit the losses you might experience in a market crash. However, in the moment people rarely look at their overall portfolio and say “Well, I’m only down X%, which I was prepared for, and my bond allocation is doing its job so all is good.” No, instead we tend to focus on the biggest, reddest number on the screen — and of course in a 3 or 4 fund portfolio, you’ll see each position individually, and have to do some math to see the portfolio as a whole.

With an all-in-one fund, you will only ever see the portfolio as a whole. You won’t second-guess your international fund during Brexit, your bond fund when interest rates are hiked, or your Canadian index fund when oil tanks. And there is a lot of investor behaviour management in the simple fact that in a diversified portfolio there is always at least one thing that is disappointing (under-performing the rest if not actually down). Not to mention in a crash — it’s hard to tear your eyes off the big red number on your losing-est fund and feel like the world is ending when that’s all that’s in the news, even if the rest of your portfolio is holding things together reasonably well. These funds will help avoid all that, and that’s the main reason I’m a big fan — all-in-one funds are best positioned to help actually match up that notion of risk tolerance for your overall portfolio and what you really see when you check in on your portfolio.

Now, these new funds do not mean that these ETFs are making Tangerine, TD e-series, or robo-advsiors obsolete. They do make investing in ETFs easier: just one thing to purchase, and no rebalancing. But you still have to deal with buying ETFs, which can’t be automated like Tangerine or TD e-series mutual funds can be. It does slightly complicate the nice one-dimensional relationship between cost and complexity that was the choice between Tangerine/robo-advisors/e-series/ETFs before. One-fund ETFs will be cheaper with automatic rebalancing, while e-series will have manual rebalancing but the ability to set up automatic purchases, and avoids the more complicated order entry of ETFs (rounding down to whole units, limit orders and bid/ask prices, worrying about market hours, etc.). I still think that overall I’d put one-fund ETFs to the right (i.e. more complex overall) than TD e-series — while rebalancing can be a pain and a bit confusing, you don’t have to do it often, while making regular purchases as easy as possible is more important to long-term success.

And if you are interested in these ETFs, you have to let the simplicity work. I mean, that’s what you’re paying extra for. I’ve seen hundreds of questions and thoughts since these launched in various blog comments and forums where people are trying to tweak the allocation to what they really want: buying VGRO and a bond fund for example, or buying both VGRO and VBAL to get an intermediate bond allocation. Just like with Tangerine’s funds a key point is to just round your desired allocation off to the nearest 20% or so to fall in to one of the choices on offer rather than trying to get lost in the details. Once you try to add more funds into the mix to get what you really want, you lose the whole benefit of the one-fund simplicity: buying more than one fund means it won’t automatically rebalance any more, and at that point you might as well buy a third (or fourth) fund and save the extra cost on bundling it up.

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