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High Net Worth Pros & Cons – Fidelity vs Schwab vs Vanguard

For high net worth and ultra high net worth investors and families, choosing which financial advisor to work with is a difficult task. Large brokerage firms like Fidelity, Schwab, and Vanguard all offer a high net worth advisory service. But how do they compare to each other, and do any of them deliver the outcomes and service you need most?

is schwab a fiduciary


7 Secrets To High Net Worth Investment Management, Estate, Tax and Financial Planning

The insights you’ll discover from our published book will help you integrate a variety of wealth management tools with financial planning, providing guidance for your future security alongside complex financial strategies, so your human and financial capital will both flourish.

Clients frequently share with us how the knowledge gained from this book helped provide them tremendous clarity, shattering industry-pitched ideologies, while offering insight and direction in making such important financial decisions.

The biggest Financial Planners' Mistake That Will Hurt Your Financial Security!
The biggest Financial Planners' Mistake That Will Hurt Your Financial Security!
How To Find Your GO-TO High Net Worth Financial Planner
How To Find Your GO-TO High Net Worth Financial Planner
How Pillar's High Net Worth Financial Planning Process Is Different
How Pillar's High Net Worth Financial Planning Process Is Different
Multi-Family Office For Ultra-High Net Worth Families
Multi-Family Office For Ultra-High Net Worth Families
Founder & Managing Member Pillar Wealth Management
Founder & Managing Member Pillar Wealth Management
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3 Best Brokerage Firms for High Net Worth

3 Best Brokerage Firms for High Net Worth

  1. Vanguard
  2. Schwab
  3. Fidelity

This article will explore the pros and cons of working with Vanguard, Schwab, and Fidelity—specifically from the perspective of an ultra-high net worth investor.

The major investment companies provide excellent online tools allowing you to track and adjust your portfolio at any time. They are reliable, well-known, reputable institutions that live up to their customers’ expectations. They include Fidelity, Vanguard, and Schwab, all of which are top online brokers, and each offers a complete range of investment services to suit the requirements of different investors.

However, especially for ultra-high net worth families with well over $10 million, you will find that a multi-family office approach will serve your needs far better than these large institutions, which aren’t built for that level of service. You will miss out on high-level coordination between elite specialists, resulting in frustration, tax inefficiencies, and wasted time.

For example, we met with an investor with a nine-figure portfolio. His tax return was four inches thick. He went to a well-known bank for ultra high net worth service. He really wanted what a multi-family office provides, though he wasn’t yet aware of that term. What he got was a presentation that made it clear they just wanted to manage his assets and take their fee.

Testimonial From Satisfied Clients

If you want to know more about how the large brokerage firms fall short for ultra high net worth investors and what you should expect for the level of wealth you’ve accumulated, get our free guide revealing the 7 Secrets to High Net Worth Investment Management, Estate, Tax and Financial Planning.

How We Created This Article

Pillar Wealth Management wants affluent investors to have clear and thorough information about the very significant financial and life decisions they face. Whether you work with us or not, you need to know the facts so you can make intelligent choices with confidence.

To that end, we did some “mystery shopping.” We created a fictional persona with a unique ultra high net worth life situation and paid someone to call up each firm, present that situation, and work through each firm’s process.

The process took several months. We held multiple calls with each firm, received a proposal in some form detailing what they would do with our assets, experienced their customer service, worked with their online platforms, and got a pretty good sense of their service to ultra high net worth clients.

This article is one of many we will be writing based on that investigation. Reach the other articles from this main page.

Comparing Fidelity vs. Vanguard vs. Schwab


In recent years, thanks to the elimination of transaction fees, those investors who use the Vanguard, Fidelity, and Schwab platforms are not required to pay commissions or trading fees, even for a stock purchase. While the cost of mutual fund trades, internally and especially with in-house funds, is mostly free, there are some exceptions where non-proprietary mutual funds may incur up to more than $49.95 in transaction costs.

You will incur transaction costs for options trading, but the costs are generally quite low. Fidelity and Schwab charge $0.65 per options contract, while Vanguard charges $1. These are contract fees, not commissions. Some more specific transactions may incur additional fees.

You may incur charges for owning shares of certain funds, although Fidelity has a wide variety of funds that have no expense ratio, while Vanguard and Schwab have lower-than-average expense ratios.

Services and Features

Vanguard, Fidelity, and Schwab provide some of the same services. They also sell a variety of accounts such as 401(k), 529 plans, custodial accounts, and IRAs.

There are no investment minimums for most accounts though Vanguard has minimums for investing in some of its mutual funds, generally ranging from $1,000–$3,000.

Vanguard is best known for its fund offerings. While providing the same products offered by any other brokerage, Vanguard targets investors interested in mutual, exchange-traded, and index funds.

At Fidelity, stock trading is commission-free. You have access to a variety of funds adequate for passive trading. Fidelity provides a lot of educational material.

When it comes to robo-advising, all three platforms provide it, but Schwab’s Intelligent Portfolios is the clear leader. It asks you about your investment goals and invests your funds in low-cost funds relevant to your responses.

Fidelity Go (Fidelity’s robo advisor) charges a monthly fee of $3 if you invest between $10,000 and $50,000, and above that, the fee is 0.35% of what you invest yearly.

The minimum for Vanguard’s robo-service, Vanguard Personal Advisor Services, is $50,000. This service is a fusion of automated and customized investment services, with a management fee of 0.3%, which can be about the same as Vanguard’s financial advisor fee.

Online and Mobile

All three firms can be accessed via app or desktop, as well as by phone. Via desktop, you can access the full functionality of the website, which may be more limited on the mobile version, although there is no limitation on your ability to trade—buying and selling stocks and funds. You can also transfer money and use the robo advisor.

Schwab’s app, although well-rated, is commonly criticized for having too much information. Vanguards’ app is not far behind. Fidelity’s app has the highest rating on the Apple and Google stores.

Minimum Deposits and Commissions

Minimum Deposit$0$0$0
Commissions (Stocks/Options/ETFs)$0$0$0
Transaction Fees (Mutual Funds)Up to $49.95/trade (buy)Up to $20/tradeUp to $74.95/trade (buy)
(Options Contracts)

Asset Classes, Features and Services

Broker-assisted trades
Cash managementX
Supported by all three brokers
Electronic funds transfers:
Available on all platforms
Financial advisors
Fractional sharesVanguard ETFs only
Mutual funds
Short selling

Account Types

Fidelity, Vanguard, and Schwab all offer the following account types—401(k), 529, custodial, Individual Retirement Account (IRA), joint, taxable, and trust.

Who Should Use Vanguard, Fidelity, and Schwab?

In a brokerage account, “idle cash” is the term used to describe uninvested cash. For those contemplating Vanguard, Fidelity, and Schwab, the management of this cash will depend on the individual and their financial goals. Vanguard offers money market funds for stability. Fidelity offers similar alternatives and tools. Schwab has a high-yield savings account. Each fits different needs, guaranteeing that investors find the perfect match.

Vanguard, Fidelity, and Schwab offer investing in many different securities, including equities and funds, without incurring fees and with low to zero expense ratios for funds. The three firms all provide online trading and account management functionalities. Yet, they have their differences.

Vanguard is attractive mainly for its wide range of funds in exchange-traded, index, and mutual funds. One of the funds requires a high minimum, but if you have the funds, the platform is great.

Fidelity succeeds due to an extremely wide variety of products and services. The complete suite of investment tools and educational resources provided by Fidelity can help rookies hone their investment skills. The Schwab robo-advisor feature is particularly notable, unlike most other robo-advisors, you can also do it yourself, which most experienced investors do at Schwab.

best brokerage for high net worth

The Six Pros of Working with Fidelity, Schwab, and Vanguard—for Ultra High Net Worth

All three of these large discount brokerage firms share several strong points in their favor, even for ultra high net worth investors.

The Six Pros of Working with Fidelity, Schwab, and Vanguard – for Ultra High Net Worth
  1. Separate Service for High Net Worth Investors
  2. High Quality People
  3. Team Approach
  4. Low Fees
  5. Commitment to the Client
  6. Robust Online Tools for Self-Managed Accounts

1. Separate Service for High Net Worth Investors

All three companies offer a separate service for wealthy clients. Vanguard’s high net worth service is called Flagship Select. Schwab’s is called Private Client. Fidelity’s is simply called Wealth Management.

Having a separate service enables them to offer more personalized and customized investment management and portfolio planning.

2. High Quality People

Once you make contact with their high net worth financial advisors, you’ll find they are exemplary employees. We had in-depth conversations about a variety of issues, and the interactions were pleasant, informative, and respectful.

There was no pressure to choose them or to rush to make a decision—and they knew we were looking at other firms.

3. Team Approach

Because they're large companies, Fidelity, Schwab, and Vanguard rely on a team-based approach when serving clients with significant wealth.

You will have a main point of contact, and that person is either a certified financial planner (CFP) or a registered investment advisor (RIA). Other staff process transactions such as moving money around and others manage your actual investments.

The point of contact is your consultant. This is the person you will know, trust, and work with for a long time. They are your advocate. But they rely on others to handle various tasks and provide extra expertise when needed.

4. Low Fees

All three firms offered us low fees, in part because the amounts we were investing were going to be quite high. Like most firms, (including Pillar Wealth Management), Fidelity, Schwab, and Vanguard charge lower percentage fees as the amount of assets under management increases.

5. Commitment to the Client

It was clear that all three high net worth advisors were willing to invest time with us, getting into the details – the weeds – of our persona’s situation. Had we continued the process, it was clear they were going to walk with us every step of the way and not leave us hanging.

5. Commitment to the Client

It was clear that all three high net worth advisors were willing to invest time with us, getting into the details—the weeds—of our persona’s situation. Had we continued the process, it was clear they were going to walk with us every step of the way and not leave us hanging.

6. Robust Online Tools for Self-Managed Accounts

If you want to manage your own investments rather than use a financial advisor, all three companies offer outstanding online platforms that are relatively easy to use and understand.

To learn these tools, you don’t need a high net worth advisor’s help. Fidelity, for example, first connected us with a different advisor, who walked us through many of the various retirement planning and investment tools available on their site. Each of these companies has powerful online services for investors who want to do their own research and investment management.

charles schwab high net worth

4 Shortcomings of Fidelity, Schwab, and Vanguard for Ultra High Net Worth Investors

Just as they have strengths, all three of these large discount brokerage firms revealed some inadequacies in their ability to serve high net worth clients. Here are a few:

4 Shortcomings of Fidelity, Schwab, and Vanguard for Ultra High Net Worth Investors
  1. Hard to Connect with the Right Person
  2. Hard to Get a Proposal Out of Them
  3. Falter at Risk Management
  4. Advisors’ Expertise is Limited

1. Hard to Connect with the Right Person

It takes a fair amount of initiative on your part to get through all the red tape before you reach the high net worth financial advisor you were hoping to speak with. All three companies use gatekeepers to vet potential clients before passing them on to the actual wealth managers.

And this is absolutely normal. Their experts’ time should not be wasted, but on the other hand, it is a complete waste of time for you.

It took multiple long conversations in some cases before we were even introduced to a high net worth advisor. This is frustrating because their websites all have contact forms and phone numbers for their high net worth services. The natural assumption is that if I call that number, it will take me straight to the advisors who work with clients like me.

But that turns out not to be the case for any of these companies. You cannot reach a specialist on your first call.

And, in Vanguard’s case, they fumbled the handoff. While they were the fastest to reply and set up the first meeting—with the person who turned out to be the gatekeeper—over a month went by before we were able to meet a high net worth advisor. We heard nothing for weeks.

Fidelity sent us to a person who clearly was not attuned to the needs of high net worth clients, and it took several conversations for this to become clear. Schwab did a good job of getting us to the right person, but their initial response for setting up the gatekeeper meeting was very slow.

In all three cases, we had to take the initiative at some point to make sure we talked to the right person.

In contrast, if you call an ultra high net worth wealth management firm like Pillar Wealth Management, which exclusively serves affluent investors, you talk to the high net worth advisor on your very first call. This saves you lots of time and gets you moving forward faster with getting your situation addressed.

2. Hard to Get a Proposal Out of Them

The details would take a while to explain, but getting some kind of proposal document showing how they would invest our assets, with projections of what we could expect and a rationale for why this plan makes sense, was difficult in all three cases.

Of the three, Vanguard was the only one that volunteered a proposal without having to be asked. But then, when their proposal came, it was only hypothetical, not based on the actual assets we would be investing. So, it wasn’t customized to us. And this was after a long phone call detailing our persona’s specific situation.

3. Falter at Risk Management

Incorporating risk is a cornerstone of any financial plan, but especially for high net worth investors.

First, risk must be defined. It is more than just a feeling. Then, it must be quantified.

All three firms did an excellent job of explaining how risk influences your financial plan. They asked good questions, used helpful analogies, and clearly laid out the various options.

But none of them appeared to have any sort of defined process for how to quantify the impact of risk on the financial plan. It never advanced very far beyond how we feel about how much loss or gain we’re willing to tolerate or pursue.

But risk must be more than just a feeling. Begin Pillar’s process by scheduling your first call, and see what we do with risk.

4. Advisors’ Expertise is Limited

This is a hard one to describe because all three high net worth advisors demonstrated great command of their industry. The simplest way to say it is this:

All three advisors mentioned the option of using outside advisors to help manage our actual investments. Fidelity and Schwab even have names for these networks of advisors whom they have vetted and approved. Schwab in particular pushed pretty hard on this; it is their process to connect you with one of the expert, but external, advisors in their network.

So that begs the question: If these high net worth advisors are experts, why do they need an external network? If they’re just going to connect you with an outside wealth manager, wouldn’t it be easier to just go straight to that person?

Viewed in this way, the large firms take on the role of a middleman. And ultra high net worth investors, in most cases, don’t want to work with a middleman. Managing your investments does not appear to be the central role of your primary advisor, especially at Fidelity or Schwab.

It was also apparent that they didn’t have deep and granular knowledge about the intricacies of tax planning, estate planning, and insurance. Again, it’s hard to describe the differences here, because they do know a lot about these topics. But each one had moments where they didn’t know the answers to certain questions that an expert would know.

Want to see what Pillar knows about these critical topics?

Request a complimentary copy of our book – The Art of Protecting Ultra-High Net Worth Portfolios And Estates: Strategies for Families Worth $25 Million to $500 Million

pros cons fidelity schwab vanguard

Vanguard vs Fidelity vs Schwab

Here are a few ways these firms distinguished themselves from each other.


Vanguard probably has the clearest value proposition of the three.

They push very strongly about their low fees, their cost transparency, and the fact they have no shareholders, no commissions, and no owners reaping billions off the customers.

Vanguard emphasizes its preference for predominantly working with ETFs and low-cost index funds, citing their significantly lower expense ratios compared to other investment options. Vanguard will not invest in individual stocks for their clients.

Vanguard also had the best email follow-up. We received several reminders and other helpful information, and we always knew where we were in the process—aside from the pretty serious fumbled transition between the gatekeeper and the high net worth advisor.

Vanguard doesn’t offer any local presence. They don’t have local branches, unlike the other two. And this was made pertinent when the subject of state taxes came up, because their advisor didn’t know our state’s tax laws.


At first, Fidelity did a poor job of funneling us to the right advisor. It took several calls before they figured out who should have been serving us from the outset.

But, once we finally reached a high net worth advisor, we received the best and most customized experience among the three companies. This advisor’s recommendations were very specific to our situation. It was clear he had listened well, and incorporated our specific needs and preferences into his recommendations, which were well thought out and had clear rationale behind them.

In contrast, the proposals from the other two were more vague and broad and didn’t really address the biggest challenges of our situation. They were mostly focused on investment projections. That was important, but it wasn’t the only issue.


Schwab offered the most personalized service of the three, and their high net worth advisor had the best phone follow-up. We were called several times once we got connected with their high net worth advisor. We felt like our situation really mattered to them, and that they truly wanted to help, not just make money off us.

The Schwab advisor had much more insight into local, state, and federal tax issues, not only on income taxes but also estate and real property taxes. This information is critical in drawing up a complete financial plan in most states. Even though Schwab does not have the same level of fund recognition as Vanguard, it offers investors both passively and actively managed funds to consider. Also, investors can trade individual stocks via Schwab. Additionally, Schwab has robo-advisor services aimed at those who want to manage their money automatically. For investors who need personalized guidance, Schwab, too, allows using a human advisor.

However, Schwab also made the biggest fuss about the proposal. They would not send an electronic copy unless we opened an account, which we didn’t want to do since we hadn’t chosen to go with them yet. So, we had to have the proposal mailed.

fidelity high net worth

Vanguard vs Schwab for Ultra High Net Worth

Platforms and trading

Both Schwab and Vanguard have online and mobile platforms. You can set up an account online with either firm, but with Vanguard you may have to wait a few days to log in. Also, Vanguard’s mobile app has fewer features than Schwab’s as Vanguard is generally more appealing to buy-and-hold investors. Schwab is a good choice for someone looking for lots of tools.

On StreetSmartEdge and Schwab.com, all of Schwab’s asset classes can be traded. The Schwab app is more versatile than Vanguard’s, addressing the needs of active traders who typically engage in more frequent trading than buy-and-hold investors. StreetSmartEdge is intuitive to use and helps active traders browse and analyze trades efficiently. Vanguard’s platform is not as easy to use, nor does it have as many features, while still letting you place orders and monitor your performance.

Services and order types

Schwab provides the usual banking services, while at Vanguard you will pay a fee for their VanguardAdvantage account.

Schwab and Vanguard provide commodities shorting, ETFs, bonds, complex options, robo advisors, international exchanges, fractional shares, and penny stocks. Schwab also offers futures and futures options, Bitcoin futures, and Forex, thus offering a greater range of options than Vanguard. Still, Vanguard’s 500 ETF and its funds are among the best in the market.

Schwab accepts several order types, e.g., day orders, good-till-canceled orders (valid for 60 days), fill-or-kill orders, and immediate or cancel orders. Additionally, Vanguard has limit, market, stop, and stop-limit orders.

With Schwab, you can stage orders as well as place conditional orders.

Order routing

Schwab has a proprietary order routing system that provides a price improvement on more than 96.6% of its orders, yielding an average savings of about $27 per order. The system has an average execution speed of 0.04 seconds. Vanguard’s order-routing technology boasts a price improvement of $0.023 per share, which is quite high for the industry; however, you cannot route your own orders or automate a strategy. In contrast, Schwab does have strategy testing tools.


At Vanguard, broker-assisted trading prices range from $0 to $25 while the price at Schwab is $25 per trade. Both companies also have no commissions for online trades placed by U.S. clients. Mutual funds are pricier at Schwab. Vanguard and Schwab also earn interest on the money in your account but you can transfer funds to a money market account for better earnings.

Schwab’s wealth advisory program has the highest fee set at 0.80% of AUM while an account minimum is set at $1 million. With a minimum account of $500,000, you are assigned an advisor who will establish their own fees. Other account minimums also have their fee structure.

Vanguard Personal Advisor Services combines automated with human financial advice, needing $50,000 as a minimum investment. Advisory fees are dependent on the worth of your assets; they can charge up to 0.20%.

Research and analytics

Schwab, as it caters to more self-directed traders, offers more online tools for researching trades than Vanguard. It provides charting tools and idea generators. Vanguard has no online technical analysis capability, but there are limited charting and tools for retirement planning.

With Vanguard, portfolios can be saved and they can be compared against Vanguard models, which range from 100% bonds to 100% stocks. Schwab offers Portfolio Checkup to check your diversification and ratings on your stocks and mutual funds. Both firms generate PDFs of portfolio analysis results.

Customer education and security

The Vanguard website provides customer education through its offering of videos and articles, numbering in the hundreds. They cover subjects such as how to invest, financial management, planning for retirement, and investing for life events. Vanguard provides education through its personal advisor services, where investment professionals can help their clients better understand markets, investment vehicles, and risk.

Schwab provides Schwab Live Daily, a video stream that can educate investors on investment topics relevant today, in addition to on-demand videos and articles written by trading experts at Schwab. Education is provided by personal advisors in the Schwab Advisor Network.

Vanguard and Schwab have customer support representatives available by telephone and live online chat. The customer service hours of Vanguard are from Monday and Friday only, but the live chat is available 24/7.

Vanguard and Schwab rely on two-factor authentication to authorize access to their services, and its SIPC insurance shields brokerage accounts valued up to $500,000.

Passive investors who are looking for investment options will like Fidelity, Vanguard, and Schwab. Fidelity has many low-cost index funds, and in fact, Vanguard is famous for being the first index fund that had low expense ratios. Schwab, on another note, even gives you free ETF and index funds. These platforms have lots of options for passive investors to implement their strategies.

schwab high net worth

Do You Want Ultra High Net Worth Caliber Wealth Management Services?

While we have great respect for Fidelity, Schwab, and Vanguard, and use them for custodial accounts for some of our clients, after reading this you can probably see the shortcomings of using them for ultra high net worth financial planning and wealth management. Feel free to schedule a free consultation to talk to us—on your first call.

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A high-net-worth investor is someone with $1 million in investable assets. Investable assets are assets that are easily converted to cash, such as stocks and bonds.

Fidelity wealth management is offered for $250,000 through Fidelity Wealth Services. Fidelity’s Private Wealth Management requires $10 million in investable assets with an investment of $2 million.

The median pay for a Fidelity associate is around $100,000, corresponding to earning 1% on 10 accounts worth $1 million. The Fidelity associate is expected to be an experienced finance professional.

Vanguard has well over $5 trillion in assets, while Fidelity has nearly $2.5 trillion. Vanguard is the world’s largest provider of mutual funds, and the second-largest provider of ETFs.

According to stockbrokers.com, Fidelity is better than Schwab, although both are highly successful and reputable brokers. Fidelity is better for active traders, who will expect to pay lower fees.

The minimum investment amount for Schwab Wealth Advisory is $1 million, with a starting fee of 0.80% of the value of the assets in the account, decreasing with increasing asset value.

Vanguard’s wealth management services start with as low as $50,000 with fees of 0.30 percent of asset value, up to $5,000,000. Fees decrease to 0.05% above $25,000,000.

Flagship Select provides wealth management services to individuals with $1 million to $5 million in Vanguard assets, giving the investor access to personalized financial services.

Among the top brokerage firms are Fidelity, Schwab, and Vanguard. Finding the firm that’s right for you will involve doing some research and talking to a financial advisor.

According to Investopedia, Fidelity is the top broker in the world today, considered best overall for low costs and ETFs. TD Ameritrade (owned by Schwab) is considered the best broker for beginners.


To be 100% transparent, we published this page to help filter through the mass influx of prospects, who come to us through our website and referrals, to gain only a handful of the right types of new clients who wish to engage us.

We enjoy working with high net worth and ultra-high net worth investors and families who want what we call financial serenity – the feeling that comes when you know your finances and the lifestyle you desire have been secured for life, and that you don’t have to do any of the work to manage and maintain it because you hired a trusted advisor to take care of everything.

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