There's something new and counter-intuitive happening in managed money: The lowest fee sector is the fastest growing because -- surprise! -- it's pretty profitable.
Unified Managed Accounts (UMAs)growth is outpacing the granddaddy of managed account formats -- the Separately Managed Account (SMA). Wirehouse distributors have figured out how to make the UMA, which appeals to investors and advisors for its one-stop shopping qualities, more economical for managers. Wirehouse distributors are simply taking over the UMA models and performing all the trading and operation functions for the managers. That eliminates a big slice of overhead.
The five major wirehouses control approximately 75% of assets in retail separately managed accounts. They've used that leverage for many years to reduce fees to outside managers with whom their retail salesforces place client money. SMA fees to managers have declined from 45-50bps down to 36-38bps (depending on the style). UMA fees are even lower, about 25bps.
Institutional managers who lack the infrastructure for retail distribution on a massive scale can now participate in the UMA business. They no longer need to ante up for back office costs. Some of the large money managers that have expensive legacy operational systems are now at a disadvantage.
These changes are enabling new institutional players to enter the business. Most advisors that I know want to offer clients unusual boutique managers that other wirehouse competitors can't offer. They've complained to us about the commoditization of the SMA business in recent years. From wirehouse to wirehouse, it's same-o, same-o: the same 20-30 managers no matter where you go.
Now some new blood is starting to come into the business. Some wirehouses are starting to actively compete for new entrants or new portfolios from existing players by trying to streamline their due diligence processes or, in at least one case, by allowing managers flexibility in setting fees. Increased competition is a positive in my view. It usually makes things better.
Labels: asset management, money manager, SMA, UMA