Money managers lure millennials with low minimums, live advice

Tuesday, 17 October 2017, 11:57:51 PM. The traditional financial advisor rarely takes on new clients with a nest egg smaller than $100,000.

The traditional financial advisor rarely takes on new clients with a nest egg smaller than $100,000.

But the financial advisory industry is coming up against two large speed bumps that could spark a paradigm shift: the rise of the robo-advisor and the fact that the second half of the millennial generation is entering the workforce and starting to invest.

This has led one registered investment advisor to rethink its strategy for acquiring clients. M&R Capital Management is a 24-year-old firm with $500 million under management. The New York-based RIA — which manages money for individuals, institutions and charities — typically requires $250,000 to open a separately managed account (SMA). Its average SMA rose 13.05% in the past year and for the past three and five years returned an average annual 2.89% and 6.26% respectively, M&R says.

However, the firm's members realized their growth strategy needed to focus on the millennial generation. With many millennials still in their early to mid-20s, few have the nest egg to open an SMA. Most don't even have savings.

But the few sophisticated enough to invest are looking at the same place where they do their shopping and banking — the computer — and opening accounts with robo-advisors.

So M&R Capital decided to lower its account minimum. It created Prime Funds, a set of ETF-based model portfolios in which people could open an account with as little as $500.

"This is our way to compete with the robo-advisor," said Paul DeSisto, director and senior portfolio manager at M&R. "The idea was to get young workers. People who don't have much money to invest and get them invested right away with some safety and growth."

DeSisto said the idea is to make them clients when they are small investors, help them grow large portfolios, then 15 or 20 years later move them into an SMA.

"We feel that people still want to talk to somebody," said DeSisto. "They can call at any time and have access to the portfolio managers."

M&R is able to accept such small accounts by keeping costs low. Prime Funds clients only have a choice of three portfolios. M&R uses the Pershing FundVest ETF platform, which lets M&R trade ETFs commission-free. The clients can't trade ETFs on their own. M&R charges each account an annual fee of 1%. That's on top of the fees that the ETFs charge, which range from 0.15% to 0.57% of assets a year.

The three portfolios currently available are: growth, value, and equity income.

The growth portfolio consists of a 42.5% allocation of PowerShares Dynamic Large Cap Growth Portfolio (), 15% SPDR S&P 400 Mid Cap Growth (), 32.5% SPDR S&P 600 Small Cap Growth (), and 10% PowerShares S&P International Developed Quality Portfolio ().

The value portfolio consists of PowerShares Dynamic Large Cap Value Portfolio (), Oppenheimer Mid Cap Revenue ETF (), SPDR S&P 600 Small Cap Value (), and IDHQ.

The high-distribution equity-income portfolio is comprised of PowerShares S&P 500 High Dividend Low Volatility Portfolio (), SPDR S&P 400 Mid Cap Value (), PowerShares S&P SmallCap Low Volatility Portfolio (), and IDHQ.

The funds have been up and running since July 31. Through the end of September, the growth portfolio has a return of 6.1% and $95,000 in assets. The others don't have assets yet.

While it's not a full-blown trend, M&R isn't alone in taking on clients with small accounts. Some, like Jeremy Torgerson, the founder of nVest Advisors, an RIA in Denver, has been taking on small accounts for two years because he sees how the robo-advisor technology is overrunning the industry. He offers his clients five ETF-based model portfolios.

"I've structured my practice to be a touch of robo and a touch of human to hold their hands," said Torgerson. "If you get these people on the ground floor and be there for them, you will have a lifelong client."

Hunter von Unschuld, the founder of Fractal Profile Wealth Management, an RIA in Albuquerque, N.M., retired as an attorney in 2013 and has been managing money since. He won't turn anyone away — and offers eight ETF-based portfolios.

"We take small accounts because it's my belief that everyone that needs help with their finances and retirement planning should be able to get help no matter their account size," he said.

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