WHEN John Bogle set up Vanguard Group 40 years ago, there was no shortage of scepticism. The firm was launching the first retail investment fund that aimed simply to mimic the performance of a stock index (the S&P 500, in this case), rather than to identify individual companies that seemed likely to outperform. Posters on Wall Street warned that index-tracking was “un-American”; the chairman of Fidelity, a rival, said investors would never be satisfied with “just average returns”; and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Wall Street’s main regulator, opposed the firm’s unusual ownership structure. The fund attracted just $11m of the $150m Vanguard had been hoping for, and suffered net outflows for its first 83 months. “We were conceived in hell and born in strife,” Mr Bogle recalls.

Vanguard now manages over $3.5 trillion on behalf of some 20m investors. Every working day its coffers swell by another billion dollars or so. One dollar in every five invested in mutual or exchange-traded funds (ETFs) in America now goes to Vanguard, as does one in every two invested in passive, index-tracking funds, according to Morningstar, a…Continue reading