Vanguard ETFs in Canada: Your Top Questions Answered, Right From the Source

Vanguard ETFs Canada - Your Top Questions Answered - Tim Huver

If you’ve done any sort of research on index investing and ETFs, then I’m almost certain you would have heard of Vanguard, as they are one of the pioneers in this space.

They have a very impressive massive following in the US and have really established themselves in Canada as well, where they are the 3rd largest ETF provider. 

I always wanted to interview them because I’m sure, like you, as one invests, you begin to wonder about certain things when it comes to index investing, and ETFs in general. 

I’ve been accumulating this list of questions for them over the years and it’s exciting to finally get a chance to interview them. Today’s guest is Tim Huver, Head of Distribution of Vanguard Canada.

Resources Mentioned:

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Questions Covered:

  1. Asset allocation ETFs have become incredibly popular here in Canada so I thought we could start our conversation there.

    First, for anybody just getting started in DIY investing, can you briefly explain what asset allocation ETFs are?
  2. One of the key appeals of asset allocation ETFs for many Canadians, is that the funds within the ETF are automatically rebalanced. Therefore, DIY investors don’t need to use tools or a spreadsheet to do this themselves.

    How often are the Vanguard asset allocation ETFs rebalanced? And when we have something like the large but brief crash from COVID, are the asset allocation ETFs rebalanced at a different interval during such significant events?
  3. A dilemma that I’m sure many Canadians face is whether they should use an asset allocation ETF for their entire portfolio, or whether they should split it up and buy individual ETFs instead, to get a slightly lower cost and increased tax efficiency by being able to place the individual ETFs in the account type that is most efficient for that ETF.

    Is there a certain threshold in terms of portfolio size, or something else where you think Canadians should consider switching from an asset allocation ETF to individual ETFs?
  4. When it comes to your asset allocation ETFs, I noticed that your allocations definitely differ from your main competitor iShares. Can you take us through how your asset allocation ETFs are different from iShares, and why you believe your methodology is superior?
  5. DIY Investors that classify themselves as total market index investors often hear that their equity asset allocation should be based on market cap weights. For example, since Canada is only 2.4% of the world markets, then only 2.4% of our portfolio should be in Canada (source).
  6. However, when we look at the asset allocation ETFs of Vanguard (and your competitors), we notice that Canada is overrepresented (i.e. a home country bias), and the US is underrepresented with respect to just their market cap weights.

    I know there is a reason you do this and Vanguard has done research on this so can you take us through why your weights don’t actually try to exactly match the market cap weights that we see across the world?
  7. One particular ETF that I’m sure has caught the attention of many retirees (or soon to be retirees) is the Vanguard Retirement Income ETF (VRIF). Can you explain what this ETF is, and the pros and cons of using it vs just holding a more traditional core total market index portfolio (like VGRO or VBAL for example).
  8. One of your popular ETFs is VUN (the Vanguard US Total Market Index ETF). Traditionally, Vanguard and iShares tend to have almost identical fees (MER), when it comes to total market index investing.

    However, I’ve had several listeners ask why in the case of VUN, its main competing ETF (XUU from iShares) is at a 0.08% MER whereas Vanguard is double at 0.16% MER.

    Now I realize that these are both still really low MERs, especially when we compare them to traditional mutual funds that tend to have MERs of 2%+, but I was wondering if this uncommon discrepancy in fees is something that is on Vanguard’s radar, and is Vanguard considering matching iShares like it has in the past with many of its other ETFs?
  9. This next one is a bit technical, but for Canadian investors that are really trying to optimize their portfolio: Whether stocks are held directly or through an ETF in another country like the US becomes important, due to the two layers of withholding tax that we have to pay if we’re holding international stocks through a US listed ETF.

    With the Vanguard international ETFs (VEE and VIU), are the international companies now held directly instead of through a US listed ETF? And if not, is that something that Vanguard is looking into changing in the future so that Canadian investors no longer have to endure those two layers of dividend withholding tax?
  10. Vanguard is seen by many Canadians as the pioneer when it comes to passive, total market index investing, especially with your founder Jack Bogle being such a strong supporter of total market index investing. I noticed however that Vanguard also has an active investing division. Can you tell us more about that as typically active investing is viewed by DIY passive index investors as the complete opposite of passive total market index investing.
  11. Why does Vanguard believe that having a combination of both active and passive funds plays a critical role in a well-diversified investment portfolio?
  12. Can you tell us about the different resources available on your site for investors?

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