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Where Does the Unified Managed Household Fit Into Financial Planning and Advice?

February 23, 2022 Steve Zuschin By Steve Zuschin

Thanks to the digital revolution, we watch history as it happens. Eyes glaze over when you begin to recall events that occurred before there were newsfeeds and broadband.

Still,  it’s worth looking up from text messages and chats for a few minutes to understand how we got where we are and where financial planning and advice are headed. The destination: the unified managed household, or UMH.

UMH, enabled by technology, is how to manage all tax-qualified and taxable accounts owned in a client household for optimal tax efficiency and maximum income.

The seed for the unified managed household approach to wealth management and retirement planning was planted more than 20 years ago. This customized approach to managing a client’s assets was extraordinary, but it wasn’t possible to grow it at scale. Technology just hadn’t caught up. But now it has.

Firms are investing heavily in technology and training their advisors to manage wealth on a holistic, unified level, not account by account.  Firms and their advisors recognize that their clients will find their services insufficient for their long-term financial planning unless they can manage household wealth.

This isn’t something that can be achieved through one spectacular product introduction or technology integration. It is a journey, with lots of unfamiliar crossroads.

The Early, Heady Days of Wealth Management

Modern wealth management as we know it today started in the 1970s. All along, the goal has been to achieve better financial results. However, how financial advisors recommended achieving those results was markedly different 40 or 50 years ago.

Investors, advisors, and the media focused on “beating the market,” “outperformance,” “five-star funds,” and “hot dots.” As investors accumulated more holdings, products, accounts, and assets with a fundamental focus on retirement, they consistently underperformed the markets, according to numerous Dalbar studies (such as this recent one).

Investors got a little schooling in basic investing principles – diversification, risk tolerance, asset allocation, rebalancing, and tax harvesting. But by and large, they tracked portfolio returns with an avidity that they did not match with attention to the costs of investing and the tax efficiency (or, as in many cases, tax inefficiency) of their investments.

This rush to the investment markets resulted from rising affluence, more people graduating from college and entering professions, the evolution of the two-wage earner family — and a revolution in retirement benefits and planning.

In 1978, Congress passed the Revenue Act giving employees a tax-free way to defer compensation from bonuses or stock options, and added Section 401(k) to the Internal Revenue Code. (Individual retirement accounts, or IRAs, had been created four years earlier for workers without pension coverage.)

We know what’s happened since. Many investors with employer-sponsored defined contribution plans saved for retirement and deferred taxes on part of their income – with outstanding results, owing to a strong economy and well-performing equities markets.

In other words, millions depend on returns for their retirement income. And now, with Baby Boomers retiring in record numbers, they’re asking their financial advisors how they take the hairpin turn from accumulation to decumulation, the systematic process of drawing income from their assets to last the rest of their lifetimes.

Multi-Account, Household Portfolios Demand a Unified Managed Household Approach

Since 1974, when IRAs first became available, financial advisors began advising clients on managing household portfolios with a combination of taxable and tax-advantaged – through tax deferral or exemption —  investments.

Remember that women were beginning to surge into the workforce, creating two-income families back then.  In time, women climbed into higher-paying positions and careers that provided opportunities to save money for retirement.

Many investors, however, either didn’t have financial advisors, or just sought their advice to create a financial plan, or drew a line between what their advisors managed and what they managed on their own (in investment management parlance, assets “held away” from the advisory firms).

So, millions of investors and households today have an Easter basket of different types of accounts, some managed with the help of professional advice (and many not):

Those Tax-Advantaged Accounts? They’re part of the Unified Managed Household, Too.

Even investors who have dabbled in investments like SMAs and UMAs have usually opened and invested in multiple tax-advantaged accounts with various financial institutions.

After all, each job change – happening more frequently now than ever before – may have opened a new opportunity, for example, to open and fund a 401(k) to be eligible for an employer match. And self-employed people may have opened tax-advantaged accounts such as SIMPLE or SEP IRAs.

This picture becomes chaotic. As investors get into their 50s and 60s, they begin to consolidate assets and look for a financial advisor who can direct them down the path that leads to retirement.

Unified Managed Account Practices for 21st Century Financial Planning and Advice

The starting point for many client-advisor relationships is financial planning. Investors, as they mature, realize the value in a deliberate and time-proven approach to:

These discussions between a financial advisor and a client can last weeks or months. And they require the clients to face, perhaps for the first time, the need to become more organized and deliberate in their money management.

It is proven that the factors that influence how successful a financial plan will be are:

And, we can say conclusively, managing taxes efficiently has the most outsized role in how much money investors get to keep and have available for retirement income and legacy planning.

Financial advisors have many great tools at their disposal to manage cost and risk, especially in the investments they manage for their clients. Their toolboxes often fall short in managing the tax efficiency of ALL the accounts in a household portfolio.

In other words, they could create terrific financial plans but have one arm tied behind their backs in putting it into action.

To be successful, advisors need to be sure they coordinate these factors – cost, risk, and taxes – to create the best outcomes for their clients. The problem is that their technology platforms are for managing individual accounts, not household wealth.  A comprehensive view of a household’s accounts is not the same as coordinating their management.

LifeYield Provides the Connections To Managed Unified Managed Households

LifeYield was founded by experienced investors and wealth technology builders who knew they had two primary challenges to help financial firms overcome:

LifeYield’s solutions for financial powerhouses allow those firms to leap into 21st-century household management. Firms can start with any solution of their choice, gradually connect the dots of their own proven and proprietary systems, and begin their journey to holistic management of the unified managed household and retirement income sourcing for the millions of Baby Boomers who are retired or will soon be.

LifeYield solutions include:

LifeYield technology was developed for adoption by financial firms with a solid vision for their clients and their own futures. Available as application programming interfaces (APIs), LifeYield solutions can work in concert with a firm’s proprietary systems so advisors can deliver customized, automated advice at scale.

The results; advisors and their firms acquire and manage more assets –tax efficiency improves the future value of those assets, creating more revenue and wealth for their clients.  It’s the only 1+1 = 5 in financial services.

Steve is the EVP of Advisor Success at LifeYield. He's responsible for leading our Direct-to-Advisor channel and always keeps up on the latest advisor technology. Steve writes about how advisors can grow their business by building stronger relationships with clients and adopting new technology.