With all the financial fallout resulting from the last two years of market turmoil and the uncertainty created by the questionable accounting and auditing practices so much in the news lately, professional asset managers seem to again be enjoying the credibility that they have always deserved. As it turns out, the time tested financial yardsticks used in fundamental analysis for analyzing corporate viability and determining valuation targets (examining issues such as the growth and quality of earnings), really do have merit. Investors are coming to the realization that risk management through portfolio diversification and strategic asset allocation (managing the mix of stocks, bonds, cash, etc.) over time produces superior risk-adjusted returns. That having been said, how do you determine whether or not you are a good candidate to have your financial assets professionally managed? And, just what exactly does a professional money manager or registered investment advisor really bring to the table?
If your combined family portfolio has marketable securities in excess of $500,000 and you either do not enjoy, or simply aren't very good at, making your own “specific” investment decisions, you are an ideal candidate for professional asset management. Registered investment advisors, such as Marc J. Lane Investment Management, Inc., typically offer asset management services to both institutions and wealthier individuals for a fee which is calculated as a percentage of assets managed. These professional asset managers add one overwhelmingly critical factor to the decision making process - -“discipline”, both in terms of managing your overall asset allocation (mix of stocks, bonds and cash), as well as on the individual security level.
For some investors with assets of less than $500,000, mutual funds may present a reasonable alternative. For an annual expense ratio and typically a front or back-end sales charge (load), you can achieve an adequate level of diversification in both stocks and bonds. However, once you are above the $500,000 level, your holdings are large enough to consider hiring a professional asset manager.
Unlike mutual funds, professional money managers like Marc J. Lane Investment Management, Inc. will custom-tailor a portfolio of individual stock and bond holdings to suit your particular investment needs and risk profile, including specific tax considerations, not the generalized needs of a wide range of investors. They essentially build you your own mutual fund, and act as your personal financial advisor as well. While you might expect to pay a much higher percentage fee for this type of service, the reality is that the percentage fee is often times lower. For example a $1,000,000 professionally managed account would typically incur a 1% annual charge, whereas, the average stock mutual fund has expense ratios between 1.25% and 1.50%, often in addition to a front or back-end sales charge. In addition, mutual funds often make year-end capital gain distributions that are taxable to each participant regardless of whether or not any profit was made on the original investment. Also, professional managers can work closely with your attorney and accountant to help you achieve your financial goals. When this higher level of service associated with a managed account is considered, the fee is quite modest.
While the level of service given and the cost at which it is provided are crucial factors in deciding whether or not to utilize a professional advisor, perhaps of even greater benefit is the professional's ability to direct you toward and help you maintain, an “appropriate” long-term asset allocation strategy which incorporates your individual tax planning needs. Academic studies have shown that when using a fully diversified portfolio, 92% of your total return is a function of how your assets are allocated. In other words, if your portfolio is either overweighted or underweighted in stocks over a long period of time, it could cost you much more in terms of total return than any other single factor.
If your individual circumstances, such as time horizon, risk tolerance, expected return, liquidity needs and income requirements, indicate an appropriate allocation of 60%-70% in stock holdings; but over the last 10 years you only allotted 40% to that asset class, even with the last two years of poor stock market performance, your total return for the period would have been dramatically lower. Furthermore, by strictly adhering to an appropriate long-term asset allocation strategy, your portfolio will by definition be buying low and selling high.
For example, let's assume that your “target” allocation across all of your portfolios is 60%-70% in stocks, and you currently hold a 65% position. If, over a period of time (3 months, 6 months, a year, whatever is agreed upon), stocks decline relative to bond holdings for the period bringing their weight in the combined portfolio down below the target minimum of 60% to only 55%, a strategic asset allocation strategy would prompt your advisor to reallocate your portfolio by purchasing more stock from cash holdings or selling bond holdings to fund stock purchases, bringing your weighting in stocks back up to 65% of your total portfolio, thus effectively “buying low”. The opposite would be true of a strong stock market where equity positions would be sold to bring the allocation to that asset class back down to 65%. By doing this consistently over time, you are able to maximize your portfolio return while effectively managing your risk.
Having the discipline to adhere to a well thought-out, tax-efficient asset allocation strategy over long periods of time is probably the single most important aspect of a successful investment plan. Utilizing the services of a professional money manager like Marc J. Lane Investment Management, Inc. removes emotional factors such as fear and greed from the strategic decision-making process, imposing discipline on that process. Many individual investors tend to focus solely on total return without considering the degree of risk imbedded in their portfolios. An advisor's management of the exposure to risk inherent in any one asset class (stocks, bonds, etc.), by actively targeting the degree of exposure to each specific industry sector and individual security, also benefits from the adherence to a more disciplined approach to decision-making.
So, in answer to the question, just what exactly does a professional money manager really bring to the table? I would offer the following. First and foremost, professional advisors bring “disciplined rational decision-making” to what is often times an emotional process. They also bring a level of customer service not available outside the world of professional asset management. And lastly, professional managers like Marc J. Lane Investment Management, Inc. can provide all these benefits at or below the cost that most mutual funds charge. All things considered, I believe the case for professional money management is a strong one.
The Lane Report is a publication of The Law Offices of Marc J. Lane, a Professional Corporation. We attempt to highlight and discuss areas of general interest that may result in planning opportunities. Nothing contained in The Lane Report should be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Consultation with a professional is recommended before implementing any of the ideas discussed herein. Copyright, 2003 by The Law Offices of Marc J. Lane, A Professional Corporation. Reproduction, in whole or in part, is forbidden without prior written permission.