Run Your Race: Money wisdom from Vanguard’s Jack Brennan

Former Vanguard Chairman and CEO Jack Brennan poses in an undated photo
FILE PHOTO: Former Vanguard Chairman and CEO Jack Brennan poses in an undated photo released to Reuters on May 18, 2021. Courtesy The Vanguard Group. The Vanguard Group/Handout via REUTERS

May 19, 2021

By Chris Taylor

NEW YORK (Reuters) – When it comes to financial advice, you could do worse than listen to someone who helped steer more money than almost anyone else on the planet.

When he was chairman and CEO of investment giant Vanguard Group, Jack Brennan oversaw a company that has since grown to over $7 trillion in assets. That torch has since been passed – first to Bill McNabb, then to current chair and CEO Tim Buckley – but Brennan still has plenty of wisdom to share in his new book “More Straight Talk on Investing,” a follow-up to the 2002 edition.

An avid marathoner, Brennan sat down with Reuters to talk about how to pace yourself for the long-distance race of financial security.

Q: A lot has happened since you wrote your previous book, so did your advice change at all?

A: What has changed for investors in the last 20 years has been very beneficial. The cost of investing has been falling dramatically, which is a critical part of being successful. There have been a lot of great product enhancements, like the ubiquity of ETFs and target-date funds. And the choice of how to get financial advice today is completely different. Everything is lower-cost and more available.

Q: Investors since 2000 have gone through so many different types of markets – how should they navigate all those ups and downs?

A: It comes down to simple stuff. Do your homework, be disciplined, be skeptical in avoiding fads, keep learning. Those are four elements I tell people all the time.

Q: Many young investors these days are getting market exposure by buying individual stocks on apps – does that give you pause?

A: I worry about it a lot. It’s like March Madness on TV. I don’t get it, personally. If you want to speculate on some individual stocks, fine, but your core serious money needs to be in a diversified program. It’s very hard to beat the stock market. There’s an old joke that the quickest way to make a small fortune is to start with a large one, and then trade a lot.

Q: What advice do you have on avoiding classic investor biases and mistakes?

A: We are all subject to emotions when it comes to investing, so there are a couple of things that are very important. One is to tune out all the noise. You shouldn’t really care about what is happening today, or this month, or even this year. I’m 66, and I hope I still have a 30-year time horizon.

The second thing is that once a year, you should reaffirm what you’re trying to accomplish. Think about the issue in buckets: Short-term resources, intermediate goals, long-term goals. Once a year, maybe on New Year’s Day, sit down and look at it all. You don’t even have to do anything about it, but stay engaged.

Q: The market is around all-time highs, so any thoughts on where we stand right now?

A: The market is fully valued, in my opinion. I think we will come strongly out of this pandemic, and there are a lot of reasons why equities are still an attractive asset class for most people.

You also enjoy the growth of those underlying companies and valuations. If you had told me 11 years ago where the market is now, I might have said watch out, but there are justifiable reasons for it.

Q: An extended bear market will come eventually, so how should investors prepare for that?

A: It’s important to understand the role a bear market plays, which is to take all the excess out of valuations. It’s also a great chance, particularly for younger investors, to put their money to work at lower valuations. Go back and look at any period of time, even investors through the Great Depression, and you see that you will be rewarded over time.

Q: In coming years we could see the greatest wealth transfer in human history, so will young investors be able to handle that?

A: Boomers may not want to pass on quite yet. But if you do inherit money, you shouldn’t just take somebody else’s advice. You need to be a knowledgeable consumer yourself. That’s the big opportunity for Gen X and Millennials: To be smarter about financial issues than my generation was.

(Reporting by Chris Taylor in New York; Editing by Lauren Young and Matthew Lewis; Follow us @ReutersMoney or at http://www.reuters.com/finance/personal-finance.)