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How the Unified Managed Household is Changing the Roadmaps of Wealth Management Firms Everywhere

February 10, 2022 Steve Zuschin By Steve Zuschin

You probably have intelligent, hardworking clients who have applied focus, discipline, and commitment to building portfolios that they intend to use to fund their retirements. Chances are, you’re managing only one or two of many accounts those clients have in their households.

So, the effects of your work are, well, limited. And you may be struggling to help when clients approaching retirement turn to you for answers to questions like:

In growing an advisory practice, you’ve got to be up to the job and know what practices and tools to apply to wade through those questions and offer the best possible advice.

Thankfully, financial technology is finally helping financial advisors meet this challenge and changing the roadmaps for the wealth management firms that support those advisors. Those firms are looking at client demographics and needs as they rethink and rebuild their wealth management technology stacks to deliver the comprehensive financial advice and wealth management that clients expect and will soon demand.

Firms and advisors who adopt a unified managed household (UMH) approach to managing wealth will be in the lead. Those firms and advisors will help clients earn more through investing and help them keep more through tax-smart, multi-account coordination, and:

Applying these practices while coordinating multiple accounts, measuring their effect, and demonstrating the financial benefits of the next best step will make advisors ever more valued to their clients.

Where Did the Unified Managed Household Come From?

Technology today positions wealth managers to realize their vision of the future:  managing the entire portfolio of household capital for their clients. This discussion started more than 20 years ago when investment managers opened an individual retirement account (IRA) for a client with an existing taxable brokerage account.

Industry leaders began to call this vision the “unified managed household.” This article, published in 2007 by what was then called the Investment Management Consultants Association, illustrates the evolution of different account types to the UMH.

The problem was that it mainly was a vision. Wealth management and investment firms were confined to managing client assets at an account, not a household, level. And if assets weren’t all under those firms’ management, they had little leeway to integrate them into financial plans for their clients.

Plus, the challenge was complex – far more complicated than existing wealth management systems could handle. They were built for handling single accounts for individual clients – not a panoply of accounts with different tax treatments and timelines for households.  And their insight to other accounts held away from the firm was zero, unless clients shared it.

So, wealth management firms forged ahead and developed accounts that offered diversification, the opportunity for growth, and high-touch service. Those accounts and strategies include:

Why Accounts Aren’t the Same as the Unified Managed Household

These products and services attracted investors and helped financial advisors and firms acquire more assets to manage (and thus earn more compensation). But in the end, they are single accounts that are, usually, only one of several that make up a client’s household of assets. Those other assets may include tax-advantaged accounts like 401(k) accounts, Roth 401(k) accounts, individual retirement accounts (IRAs), Roth IRAs, pensions, annuities, and perhaps investments like real estate investment trusts and, increasingly today, a digital wallet of cryptocurrencies.

Tax management within an SMA, UMA, or direct indexing strategy is limited to the account it’s deployed and doesn’t account for the tax consequences for the client across all accounts they own.  Taxes also have an outsized impact on how much money from their portfolios clients get to keep. A study by EY said that a portfolio of accounts coordinated to achieve optimal asset location, deploy tax loss harvesting, and perform dynamic withdrawals could yield a return of up to 33% more than practices that didn’t account for the drag that taxes inflict on portfolios.

Wealth Managers Get to Work on the Unified Managed Household

Wealth management firms and financial advisors understand that most of their clients have at least some – and perhaps significant holdings – that aren’t under their management. You sometimes hear these referred to as “held away” assets. And they represent a substantial opportunity for financial advisors.

If you’ve started by working on a financial plan with your clients, you’re in a great position. The financial planning process allows you to find out:

With that information, you can begin to deliver on the UMH by pivoting from planning to demonstrating what value you could provide by managing the household’s portfolio in a tax-smart way.

In the past, this was highly manual work, trying to coordinate assets held with your firm with those that weren’t. Today, technology puts it within reach. And many firms are already leading with ways to create more wealth for their clients with UMH.

Firms knew that the unified managed household was a marathon, not a sprint. They’ve had to choose where they will start. The approaches are as different as the firms that are taking them, but they include:

However a firm starts to implement its vision of the unified management household, the underlying themes are constant: coordination, optimization, and implementation are at the heart of every UMH design that unlocks massive benefits:

Taxes and The Future of the Unified Managed Household  

News about possible tax law changes has put wealth management firms and financial advisors on notice: They will underperform their competition unless they add tax alpha to financial planning, investment advice, and retirement income planning. The industry is moving faster than ever before. Assets under management are at historic highs. People know they are responsible for their retirements.

The time for the Unified Managed Household has come. Firms that know they must move are partnering with LifeYield for technology solutions that enhance – not replace – the wealth technology they have amassed through proprietary development, acquisitions, and mergers.  Putting tax-smart technology atop your other fine tools will put you in the best position to increase assets under management at an unprecedented scale and thrive in the 21st century.