The Cooperative Advantage in Mutual Funds

The fastest growing mutual fund family over the past decade has been the Vanguard funds. Their products feature no load, low cost index funds. The underlying philosophy is that investors cannot beat the market. Paying fees to investment managers that claim superior returns not only locks in higher costs, but also the claim to beat market averages is rarely achieved.

But there is one other critical advantage that allows Vanguard to offer this approach to investing contrary to the market positioning of virtually all other major mutual fund advisors. The funds are owned by their investors.

As described in a recent LA Times article“the investment group is swelling at a dramatic pace, thanks to one crucial advantage over its rivals: It is owned by its own funds, allowing it to use profits after covering costs and business investments to lower its fees, rather than reward outside shareholders with dividends and buybacks.

In other words, the more it grows, the cheaper its funds can become, in turn generating more growth — a virtuous cycle that has helped Vanguard more than triple in size since 2011. It is particularly dominant in the U.S., where last year it took in more money than its two biggest rivals, BlackRock and Fidelity, combined, according to Morningstar.

Vanguard today accounts for over a quarter of the entire U.S. mutual-fund market — a market share almost as big as Fidelity, BlackRock and Capital Group put together — and it is one of the biggest shareholders in virtually every major listed U.S. company.”

A Harbinger for Credit Unions?

NCUA Chairman Ed Callahan (1981-1985) frequently described credit unions as America’s best kept secret or a “sleeping giant.”

Vanguard is a powerful example for cooperative design where the user-owners are the sole focus of management’s priorities. Could Vanguard’s success become an example for credit union’s future contribution to the American economy?