Is Ramji a Boglehead? Will Vanguard Pivot on Crypto?

Is Ramji a Boglehead? Will Vanguard Pivot on Crypto?

Naming of new CEO raises questions on technology, customer service, crypto and history.

RonDay
|
Managing Editor
|
Reviewed by: Kent Thune
,
Edited by: Ron Day

Salim RamjiThe appointment of Salim Ramji to lead Vanguard Group, a company whose ETFs and mutual funds hold trillions of investor dollars around the world, may represent a pivot point in the history of the nearly 50-year old asset manager that’s been criticized recently about its technology, customer service and refusal to sell spot bitcoin ETFs.

Then again, maybe not.

The appointment of Ramji, 53, appears to have rattled few Vanguard watchers. ETF industry watchers including Bloomberg’s Eric Balchunas said the former BlackRock Inc. executive was on their short list of candidates to take over from Tim Buckley, the long-time Vanguard employee who announced in March that he was leaving after six years as CEO.

Still, Ramji’s appointment came with at least one surprise: he’s the first outsider named to run the company, which has $9.3 trillion in assets and 50 million investors. The Malvern, Pennsylvania company has $2.56 trillion in 86 exchange-traded funds, second to iShares’ $2.77 trillion.  

Ramji may share an earlier connection with Vanguard: etf.com columnist and financial advisor Allan Roth said Buckley had praised McKinsey & Co. in a conversation with him, and Ramji had once led McKinsey’s wealth and asset management practice.

“If McKinsey was working with Vanguard then, he may have been known to the Vanguard Board,” Roth said in an emailed comment.

Bogleheads, Vanguard Customer Service

Ramji praised Bogle in Balchunas’s 2022 book “The Bogle Effect,” when he was at iShares: “Bogle had incredible clarity of vision and was a huge advocate for individual investors... We spend a lot of time making investing more accessible and affordable, and I think if Bogle were alive, he would approve,” Balchunas posted on X. Balchunas yesterday told etf.com that Ramji is a “kind of a Boglehead at heart.”

In the wake of Buckley’s announcement of his exit, complaints about the company’s customer service and technology problems surfaced. Some saw those issues as part of the deal when keeping an account with a company known for offering mutual funds and ETFs with low fees. Still, some would like to see a change.

"I’m hopeful he will bring a focus to improving technology and customer service,” Roth said.

Is a Vanguard Bitcoin ETF Next?

Ramji's arrival potentially marks a shift in posture regarding cryptocurrency at Vanguard, which declined to offer spot bitcoin ETFs on its platform after they began trading in January. Ramji was instrumental in BlackRock's launch of the iShares Bitcoin ETF (IBIT), which in March set the mark of reaching $10 billion faster than any other ETF. Buckley, who announced his retirement March 1, days later reiterated his opposition to spot bitcoin ETFs, saying the asset must change and they don't belong in a long-term portfolio.

Still, change is afoot, and Ramji will be tasked with shepherding the massive firm into a future that may include digital tokenization of assets, lower costs and rising competition.  

"The culture already feels like it’s changing a bit with them adding fees and closing business lines,” said Jeff DeMaso, editor of The Independent Vanguard Adviser newsletter. “He will have to take meaningful steps to improve the technology and service issues.”

The company may be in the right place as change hits, said Adam Dell, founder and CEO of New York-based Domain Money Advisors.

“The wave of increasing access by eliminating unnecessary fees and high minimums is only growing in strength,” he said.  “Anachronistic elements of financial planning, such as AUM fees are also under assault.”

etf.com Wealth Management editor Jeff Benjamin contributed to this article. 

Ron Day is Managing Editor at etf.com. He joined the company in October 2022 and previously served as editor and deputy managing editor.

Ron covered business and financial news at Bloomberg News for 20 years, working on the breaking news, technology, commodities, headlines and First Word teams. He was previously senior editor at ESG news outlet Karma Impact and filled the same role at Boundless Impact. He also covered a variety of beats at New Jersey daily papers including the Daily Record in Parsippany, the North Jersey Herald & News and the Asbury Park Press. Ron's freelance work has been published in AARP.com, Investopedia.com and BigThink.com.

Ron is an advocate and fan of literacy. He hopes to one day master his Telecaster, rather than the other way around. His wonderful family includes a 10-lb. malti-poo named Emmy.