Fidelity vs vanguard customer service


Recycles dryer sheets
Feb 6, 2004
After reading just about all of the books on the recommended reading list I'm in the process of reorganizing my investments from traditional brokers and banks to Fidelity and Vanguard. I've had some trepidation with the transitions from someone I've met or an institution I could walk into to a web site and a 1-800 customer rep.  At least a couple of these transfers are complicated and I've needed to make routine and several phone calls to Fidelity and Vanguard reps with questions and help.

So far I'm giving Fidelity an 8.5 on the 1-10 scale for help.  One of my arrangements has been especially troublesome and they have nearly bent over backwards to help.  Not quite like meeting a real person but they have been greatly helpful and informative.  I'm giving Vanguard maybe a 6 on the 1-10.  They have been pretty helpful.  Most of the reps I've talked with are very knowledgeable.  However there was at least one clinker and a double check produced contradictory answers.  I  was not given the same confidence from Vanguard that with complications things would go smoothly.

I know that there are many Vanguard "die-hards", but I've chosen to have at least some of my investments with Fidelity.  They have a small menu of index funds with expense ratios at .3% to .5%.  They also can offer Vanguard funds at a somewhat pricey (I think it was $75 per purchase) fee, and then there are ETFs.  Aside for the personal decision to not want to have all of my eggs in the Vanguard basket, in my mind there are some smaller customer service issues should complications arise that I would not want much of my stock oriented retirement income with one choice.

My adivice needs have required a phone call maybe every other day to one or the other firm for a couple of months.  You folks have been so helpful with my questions, so I thought maybe my experience might be helpful to others somewhere along the way.
I'm currently annoyed with Fidelity on a small scale, because they re-vamped their web site to only work properly with IE or Netscape. I run Linux and use Firebird, so I have to run IE on a Windows emulator in order to get to some of the mutual fund informational pages.

Apart from that, I have been very pleased with the customer service. They've always been on the ball when I've (infrequently) had to call them with a problem or question, and I always felt that the problem was resolved right away. The one time that they made a minor mess-up (accidentally sent me a page of someone else's statement. Didn't even have any account numbers on it.) they went out of their way to contact me and assure me that none of my own information had been leaked, and that the clerical error had been fixed.

I haven't had any experience with Vanguard to compare.
I have had a Fidelity Brokerage Account since sometime in the mid 70's. I have made literally hundreds of tranactions. Right now, I can't remember a mistake ever happening. Their reps are invariably polite. And, in many cities they have offices where you can stop by and talk to some one in person.

I used to keep another account for more frequent trading, a very cheap one. But I discovered that by consolidating everything at Fidelity it is almost as cheap, and to me much easier. At tax time you can download directly into Turbo_Tax. Also the new web page makes it very easy to keep track of your income and realized capital gains as the year progresses.

I would recommend Fidelity higher than any other consumer financial company, except maybe American Express, which also does a lot of things very well.

I have also been with Fidelity for some time. Always have had top knotch service and reps who would admit they did not know an answer and then go find someone who does. For me that is the true sign of a professional organization.
If you have not discovered it as yet, be sure to check out their Portfolio Planner and Retirement Income planners. Well done with a lot more visibility to what is happening. Both tools use Monte Carlo modeling and allow you to run a number of "what ifs"
You are correct that Fidelity hits you with a pretty steep transaction fee for any fund not part of their NTF families which none of Vanguard funds are. However, with all the ETFs out there, you can certainly get the benefits of indexing w/o higher costs. Depending on the size of your relationship w/Fidelity you can get your a stock transaction (ETF) for as little as $8.
I have also kept a Vanguard account with about 15% of my assets but would agree with other posters that they do not quite measure up. I have not found their Internet tools as complete or as easy to use as Fidelity. Placing an order in Vanguard takes several more steps than Fidelity (or maybe I don't do it often enough and have not found the magic path). They bounced a money market check on my Mom's account for no apparent reason. It was a graduation gift to my daughter so other than inconvenience and a return check fee which they made good on we had minimal problem having corrrected. But that is such a basic task it gives one pause for what elsethey might not have under control.
I'm pretty much a Vanguard guy as I have had nothing but positive experience with their reps and their website. I've heard a lot of positive things about Fidelity as well as TR Price, TIAA-CREF, and USAA.

It sounds to me like you are doing a very good job of due dilligance in making these comparisons.  It also sounds like you have decided on Fidelity.  Go for it!  

Just an idea, since you have done such a complete job, and must have notes on your calls, why not write a letter or emal to the CEO of Vanguard and share your expereinces and the reason that you seleced Fidelity.

As a Vanguard investor, I would apprecaite them knowing what you know so that they can spruce up their service.
It's been years since I've had an account at Fidelity, so I can't comment on the comparison except to say I've been completely satisfied with Vanguard's Voyager service. (We don't trade often, so Flagship service seems less important.) Opening accounts is easy and transferring money among accounts is easy. Although vanguard has some nice financial planning tools, I rely on Morningstar's premium service for that -- really neat tools for providing insight into asset allocationn decisions.

Second That. As a pretty much passive investor, I just file Vanguard paperwork until tax time.

If I ever need to 'get active' it's nice to know someone gave them the heads up on improving service.
My experience with Vanguard's customer service has been poor. They have made many errors (which they do eventually fix). For example, I called in to make a $3,500 transfer from my taxable account to my IRA (my 2004 IRA contribution). I called because the online system wouldn't accommodate the transfer. Told the rep that my wife was going to make the exact same transaction and handed the phone to her. She gave her information - the same instructions. My order was processed correctly. Not hers. They redeemed $3,500 from her IRA, recorded it as a premature distribution, and mailed her a check for $3,500. Then they put a ten-day hold on the $3,500 they put back into the account. They have done this type of thing repeatedly.

Another example: for my wife's SEP I bought around $150,000 worth of TIPS on the secondary market via her brokerage account at Vanguard. I submitted the order online and their online system wasn't able to handle a purchase that large. So I had to call it in, which I didn't want to do because I feared they'd screw it up. But I'd already tried 3 times online - so I had no choice. In the meantime, the price went up (cost me maybe $300 or so). When I asked the rep what was going on, he was clueless. Then I learned later from a supervisor that this was a known issue - they just hadn't bothered to tell their reps (or their customers). One of their dim-bulb managers told me that they had graciously waived the extra charge that I incurred for completing the trade by telephone instead of online!!

I could go on with many more examples. I remain with Vanguard only because the costs are low, but my patience is growing thin. I think it was Cut-Throat who summed it up well in another thread - the problems are caused primarily by the customer service turds. But if another company would compete with Vanguard in terms of costs and index selection, I'd change in a heartbeat. For now I remain.
Few problems for me.

My IRA rollover from my 401k went very smoothly, although that was 3+ years ago when I think their CS was better.

Opening my regular account with them was a bit trying. Some of the terminology they used was orthogonal to my brain. For example, instead of saying "funds" they say "accounts". I didnt want to open another account, I wanted to add a fund to the one I had!!

Once I figured out a few things, it went together ok.

I've seen some other "hitches" in the system where I had to "game" it to do what I wanted.

The voyager email service usually answers my questions correctly, 24 hours after I've figured it out myself.

The one dumb thing they just cant seem to quit doing is sending me checks for 24c or 1.15. I have autodeposit of interest from my MM to my bank, but about one in three months, they send me these tiny checks. They cant explain why they do it. I never had money in the MM very often (obviously). When I quit using it entirely and went to using the short term corp exclusively the problem went away.
Interesting to get others experiences with Vanguard...
I recently decided to Dump my current broker and transfer all accounts and funds to Vanguard. Because of the complexity of my accts. I new this might be difficult over the phone and/or web. I called Vanguard and after a couple transfers, was connected with the right person for the the size of my acct. I qualified for Admiral (I think they called it that) service for higher balances. I assumed this would result in me getting full service in transferring my accts from current broker to Vanguard. :confused: I was assigned an in house advisor that took 6 days to call me back and then could not fully understand my situation. He promised to call me back when he had more information. It's been 10 days... no call. I don't have a warm and fuzzy feeling right now ::). One would think they would like to add another mill to the business. Although , I will say the few accounts I currently have with Vanguard are well run.

Slipp :)
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