The Money Management Institute, Cerulli Associates, TowerGroup, and other analysts forecast that separately managed accounts (SMAs) will be one of the major growth engines for fee-based advice in the future. TowerGroup projects a compound annual growth rate of 18% for separate accounts, culminating in $1.1 trillion in SMA assets by 2007, in spite of the relatively depressed market of the last two years. Partly in response to that market, traditional SMAs are giving way to a new breed of products. Those products integrate multiple unaffiliated money managers and multiple products such as mutual funds and even alternative investments like hedge funds and REITs into a single account. These multiple style portfolios (MSPs) can greatly simplify the investment consulting process, reduce paperwork, reduce account minimums for a proper asset allocation, and support greater personalization and tax management than traditional SMA products.
Managing those products in a tax-efficient manner will require a new set of services called overlay portfolio management (OPM). Overlay technology addresses the operational complexity, legacy computing infrastructures, and limited resources that make it difficult for firms to configure and offer MSPs. By seamlessly integrating these functions–and improving the personalization and tax efficiency of SMAs–OPM represents the Holy Grail in helping advisors provide the best investment solutions for their clients.
Overlay portfolio management is relatively new, but leaders and technologies have already emerged from which sponsor firms can choose. Independent OPMs such as Placemark Investments and Parametric Portfolio Associates work with existing separate account program sponsors to offer open-architecture MSP products that work with the sponsors’ preferred investment managers. Citigroup, CDC IXIS, and Affiliated Managers Group offer OPM services as part of their branded MSP product offerings. Companies like Smartleaf, LifeHarbor, and Upstream Technologies provide technology that allows program sponsors and investment managers to deliver varying levels of OPM services.
While current market conditions aren’t exactly creating a bonanza of taxable gains, advisors are keenly aware that delivering tax efficiency is more critical than ever when returns are so volatile. Recent tax code changes, such as the reduction of the tax rates on dividends and new ultra-long-term capital gains rates, emphasize the need to consider the tax impact of trades. But delivering true tax efficiency in SMAs requires two specific capabilities:
o An investment management process that can incorporate client-specific tax costs for every potential decision scenario and change trading behavior based on the tradeoffs between risk, tax, and alpha across all of a client’s managed assets.
o Visibility into, and consideration of, all of the tax events external to the SMA that are impacting a client’s tax return.
Tax management by any individual manager without active coordination across other products, and who is oblivious to a client’s overall tax picture, can’t deliver on the ultimate potential of tax efficiency, and can even destroy value in some situations. Likewise, strategies that attempt to use a single tax-managed portfolio to generate offsetting losses for other tax-oblivious managers are incapable of delivering the tax savings that can be delivered through a fully coordinated tax strategy.
With the new breed of multiple style portfolios, firms are beginning to integrate the input of multiple active money managers into a single account. These portfolios incorporate unaffiliated active investment managers, ETFs, mutual funds, and bond portfolios with full client-specific tax management, and are the new focus of firms servicing the high-net-worth market. However, early generation SMAs are still based on the same model portfolio-driven management process, doling out the same trades for all clients regardless of the tax impact. To manage these products for maximum tax efficiency, firms must first implement OPM investment services.
In the Beginning
It could be argued that Citigroup Asset Management was the first overlay portfolio manager, in delivering its Multiple Disciplined Account products to Salomon Smith Barney. Citigroup’s MDAs solved much of the inherent complexity of offering traditional SMAs. However, the Citigroup MDAs only used internal Citigroup money managers, an approach that greatly simplified the problem.