After Jack Bogle passed away on January 16, 2019, Mike sent the following note to the SigFig team. We share it below, lightly edited for length and clarity.
Jack Bogle, founder of Vanguard, passed away today. Some of us may not have even heard of him. But Jack Bogle essentially invented the index fund. In doing so he democratized investing, brought low cost diversification to everyone, and helped millions of people in America and across the world.
In many ways Jack Bogle laid the groundwork for automated investment advice, proving that simplicity, affordability, and accessibility have an important place in our industry. I believe what we are building can take these principles to the next level, helping to personalize investing and re-connect people to the goals and emotions that drive people to invest in the first place.
It’s remarkable that the index fund has grown gradually but consistently over 40+ years, slowly at first but picking up tremendous speed in the last decade. This is a reminder that achieving great impact doesn’t happen overnight, that good products made simple can gain incredible momentum over the long run, that hard work and persistence can be worthwhile. Even more important, I believe Jack Bogle and Vanguard have done a better job than virtually the rest of the industry in staying true to their core values — values that are surprisingly simple but rarely shared by their competitors.
While I did not know Jack well, I had the good fortune of spending some time with him a few years ago. We had been introduced by a mutual friend and after a fun introductory phone call he invited me to breakfast and even suggested I bring my mom along.
Why my mom? I had shared two funny stories about Vanguard from my early childhood, both of which involved my mom. The first is my investing origin story. Before I really knew anything about money, let alone investing, my mom once gave me a summer project to record what she later taught me was mutual fund NAVs. A passionate self-directed investor and a very early Vanguard customer, she had the clever idea of enlisting child labor from a kid who loved numbers. She instructed child labor — me — to dial into the Vanguard automated phone system (this was before the internet!) each day to track and record on a piece of graph paper the previous day closing prices of a couple dozen mutual funds. Eventually, after doing this for days and days on end with really no idea what I was doing, she started to try to explain what investing was. I guess eventually some of it stuck.
But the other story is the one which Jack really got a kick out of. After a few years of the “summer graph paper phone system project”, unpaid child labor was getting bored and got upgraded to a new project: opening and organizing piles and piles of unopened mail from Vanguard. Each envelope contained a trade confirmation, and there were piles of them because any check she received (large, or more often, small) she deposited at Vanguard which triggered a trade confirmation by mail. Opening the mail, organizing the slips in chronological order in a binder, and double checking against a log to make sure that all the checks were actually deposited correctly — all seemed logical to me. But the really peculiar thing was that my mom asked me to sort and stack the blank envelopes that came with each trade confirmation. (The blank envelopes were pre-addressed “no postage necessary” deposit envelopes so you could easily make additional deposits by mail — growth-hack circa 1988!) What made my mom’s request even more bizarre is that she never used the dozens and dozens of envelopes I had diligently sorted for her! This was because Vanguard’s headquarters was just a small detour on the way to school, and my mom would drop off the checks in person at their corporate office (we were usually met with strange looks because it was an office building, not a retail location).
One day, I noticed that when she was making a deposit, she brought along a pile of envelopes I had been collecting for her. I asked her, “Why don’t you just use the no-postage-necessary envelopes I collect for you instead of dropping the deposits off? And if you’re gonna drop them off, then why do I have to sort them only to be returned unused?” And that’s when she explained to me the fundamental Vanguard philosophy of being low-cost and how that impacts investment returns. Not using and returning the envelopes was her token way of helping Vanguard achieve their greater objective of keeping fees low for their customers.
In retrospect, I think the reason why Jack loved the story was because it was a real life example of how powerful, contagious, and unexpectedly far-reaching the simple values he created ended up being.
When we got together for breakfast, he was well into his mid-80s, but his heart was passionate and his mind as bright. It is sad to hear of his passing (my mom called me today to tell me) but I hope as SigFig that we can carry on and further the things he started.
Thanks to you all for being part of this journey and helping to build products that will hopefully help hundreds of millions of people one day.