The Dimensional Fund Advisors Versus Vanguard Battle


There’s no longer an argument that index funds beat actively managed funds. 

But there remains a battle between two types of index funds.  DFA (Dimensional Fund Advisors) claim to reign supreme. 

They tilt their portfolios towards small cap and value cap.  They also claim to have a superior way of trading.

But when comparing DFA’s funds to Vanguard’s index funds (in an apples-to-apples test) I found that Vanguard won. I first wrote about that here, testing DFA’s funds against their Vanguard equivalents. 

I’ve since updated that comparison. 

Here’s Portfolio 1, Comprising DFA’s Funds


Here’s Portfolio 2:  Vanguard’s Equivalents



Using, I compared results from January 2007 until April 30, 2018.

As you can see below, Vanguard’s Portfolio (Portfolio #2) won once again.  It averaged a compound annual return of 6.67 percent. 

In contrast, DFA’s equivalent funds managed a compound annual return of 6.63 percent. 

The race was close.  But Vanguard did win.

What’s more, Vanguard’s equivalent funds recorded a standard deviation of just 16.95%. 

Standard deviation is a measure of volatility.  The lower the better.

DFA’s equivalent was more volatile, recording a standard deviation of 18.07%.

I love DFA’s funds.  But in an apple- to-apples (factor to factor) test against their Vanguard’s equivalents, they’re a step behind their promise.


January 1, 2007 – April 30, 2018

Portfolio 1= Dimensional Fund Advisors (DFA)

Portfolio 2= Vanguard’s indexes 



Andrew Hallam

I’m a financial columnist for Canada’s national paper, The Globe and Mail, as well as for AssetBuilder, a financial service firm based in Texas. I’m also the author of Millionaire Teacher: The Nine Rules of Wealth You Should Have Learned in School (2nd Ed. Wiley 2017) and The Global Expatriate’s Guide To Investing: From Millionaire Teacher to Millionaire Expat (Wiley 2015). My mission is to educate, motivate and inspire people on basic retirement planning and best practices for investing, using evidence-based strategies. I'm happy to comment on your questions. However, please read the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and the Comments Policy.

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