Wealth managers need to do more than recommend managed accounts.
Wealth management goes deeper than simply recommending separately managed accounts. Who is a wealth manager, and why are there so many overlapping terms? Has the industry marketed its many titles and designations so vigorously that the investor is thoroughly confused?
To answer these questions, Financial Advisor invited these experts to share their opinions on the blurring lines of demarcation in the industry: Christopher Davis, executive director of the Money Management Institute in Washington, D.C.; Dan Bott, CIMC, managing director and investment officer for Wachovia Securities in Scottsdale, Ariz., and chairman emeritus of the Institute for Certified Investment Management Consultants; Curtis Greenlaw, a wealth management consultant in Denver; Rob Rowan, research director of the Family Office Exchange in Oak Park, Ill.; and Lewis Walker, CIMC, CFP, president of Walker Capital Management in Norcross, Ga.
LeBlanc: Increasingly, financial advisors, planners, and investment management consultants are claiming the moniker of "wealth manager" and, in some cases, family office specialists. The lines of demarcation are blurring, as are responsibilities and expertise. Can any of you shed some light on this situation?
Davis: Indeed, right now we are seeing quite a jumble of overlapping terms. In basic terms of identification, wealth managers handle the investment portfolio, presupposing that all of the financial planning, such as insurance needs, estate planning, business succession, etc., has been addressed. Family office specialists cover all of the above plus selecting portfolio wealth managers. Historically, consultants have been retained to determine a portfolio's needs and select appropriate money managers, but now financial planners are renaming themselves "consultants."
Greenlaw: I believe it is necessary to first define the duties and role of a wealth manager. If a wealth manager is charged with selecting, coordinating and monitoring a select team of tax, legal, investment, risk management, philanthropic advisors, etc., they should be familiar with each discipline. Although their backgrounds may vary, their value is not derived from the answers they provide, but in asking the right questions. It was once said that "There is something more valuable than talent, and that is the ability to recognize it"-which aptly describes the qualities of an exceptional wealth manager, regardless of their background.
In the case of "family office specialist," this individual should conform to the following litmus test: do you offer integrated, coordinated and comprehensive services customized to each family's unique needs? Do you employ a multidisciplinary, multigenerational strategy that is clearly elucidated and involves a collaborative network of select advisors? Do you operate in an independent, fee-only format that would mitigate any conflict of interest?
To further define this area, the traditional "family office" structure typically offers services unrelated to financial management and emphasizes a "multigenerational" approach. However, any advisor that utilizes an independent platform of services-and incorporates a team of select multidisciplinary advisors-could justify their role as a "family office" specialist.
Bott: I agree with Curt on the necessity of defining roles. Their qualifications are not really very clear; most have relied on the CFP designation or insurance-related [designations] like CLU or ChFC. As far as the expertise of these various groups goes, I also believe that most planners, wealth managers and family office specialists lack real capital market experience. Those groups also seem to be more product- and insurance-oriented than investment management consultants. On the consultant side, most seem to be more in tune with the capital markets and less involved in product.
Rowan: Terminology has been confusing to clients. For example, it's easy to forget that the phrase "multiple family family office" sounds grammatically incorrect unless you work with one every day. I think that the answer is a combination of two things. On one hand, it is about client education. But on the other hand, the industry needs to do a better job of communicating to clients.
Greenlaw: The distinction among these groups is nebulous and often misleading. Regardless of the designations they affix to their name, it would behoove a client to ask, "Do you provide integrated, coordinated and comprehensive services?"