U.S. Bancorp did not envision the current market turmoil when it launched its unified managed accounts last year, but it says the volatility is one reason they have been well received.
“I think that we are likely to see very nice growth in UMA assets through the end of the year and into next year,” said Tim Leach, chief investment officer for the wealth management group of its U.S. Bank. His company would not say how much it has in UMAs.
Tax management and investment screening capabilities, which make it easy to avoid risky sectors and to “harvest losses in an intelligent fashion,” are helping to spur the growth in unified managed account assets, Mr. Leach said.
Industrywide, there were $127 billion of assets under management in unified accounts as of Sept. 30, and the total is likely to reach $355 billion in the next five years, according to Dover Financial Research LLC. Experts say the market’s current behavior could help the accounts gain traction. “Their case has never been stronger,” said Alois Pirker, senior analyst with Aite Group LLC.
Many bankers will get to test that theory in the coming months. U.S. Bancorp launched its unified accounts in October of last year, the same year Bank of America Corp. and SunTrust Banks Inc. began offering the product.
Unified accounts can contain a range of products from stocks, bonds, and ETFs to mutual funds and alternative investments.
One argument for using the accounts has to do with risk management; portfolio managers can screen out sectors that are under pressure. By contrast, Mr. Leach said, clients and advisers have less control over a third party managing a separate account.
“In this type of market, for example, UMA technology allows portfolio managers to underweight financial services companies while optimizing the resulting portfolio, as opposed to a series of separate account managers, who are going to do whatever they are going to do,” he said. Technology also helps managers choose which stocks to avoid without creating gaps in diversification, Mr. Leach said.
Mr. Pirker said the accounts’ flexibility allows portfolio managers and clients to make bets about when certain sectors or companies hit bottom and are ready for a rebound. In addition to tailoring portfolios to the current market, clients can do things like screen out “sin stocks” or keep allocations balanced while owning a big chunk of an employer’s stock.
Such capabilities are among the reasons assets are expected to move into unified accounts from separately managed ones, which have $519 billion of assets, according to Dover. It expects as much as 50% of those assets to move to unified accounts within five years.
But their market share may not come solely at the expense of separately managed accounts. James Clements, a senior vice president of advisory services for National Planning Holdings Inc., a broker-dealer network unit of Prudential PLC, said unified accounts appear to be taking assets from mutual fund wrap programs.
That makes sense, because unified accounts and mutual fund wraps target customers with similar asset levels, said Mr. Clements, whose unit provides bankers with access to the accounts through its asset management partners.
The accounts are more attractive than wraps because they offer better tax efficiency, he said, and some managers are offering unified and separately managed accounts along with wraps.