What is wealth management and do you need it?

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Wealth management can be thought of as a comprehensive service focused on taking a holistic look at a client’s financial picture, including services such as investment management, financial planning, tax planning and estate planning.

Wealth management is generally considered a “high-end” type of service, and some wealth management firms may require a certain level of investment assets or a minimum net worth. For clients who need this level of service, it can be useful to consolidate all types of financial advice in one place with just one firm.

Key wealth management objectives

Wealth management objectives will vary depending on the investor. Each client’s needs and situation are different, and good wealth advisors will tailor their advice accordingly.

Some key wealth management objectives for clients include:

  • Setting financial goals and designing strategies to achieve those goals
  • Helping clients maximize their overall wealth
  • Managing their investments and finances
  • Setting strategies for passing on their wealth, also known as estate planning

What is wealth management?

Wealth management is a holistic service that focuses on helping mid- to high-net-worth clients grow their wealth, manage their liability exposure and devise strategies to pass their wealth on to their designated heirs. Wealth management services take a comprehensive approach to the financial situation of higher-net-worth clients, versus working with an advisor focused solely on financial planning or investment management.

Some typical services offered by wealth management firms include:

  • Investment management and advice
  • Comprehensive financial planning
  • Tax planning and accounting services
  • Estate planning
  • Philanthropic planning
  • Legal services
  • Retirement planning

Some of these services may be offered in conjunction with an outside partner, however. Legal services are a prime example.

How much money is required for wealth management?

There are no hard and fast rules regarding how much is required for an investor to obtain wealth management services. Any minimums in terms of investable assets, net worth or other metrics will be set by individual wealth managers and their firm.

That said, a minimum of $2 million to $5 million in assets is the range where it makes sense to consider the services of a wealth management firm. Much below that and it might be hard to justify the expense of this type of service.

Again, these minimum levels will vary by firm. They may also vary a bit by your circumstances. For example, a wealth manager may want to take on the children of some of their current larger clients to help ensure the wealth they inherit stays with their firm. They may also want to establish solid relationships with younger professionals such as doctors or attorneys to retain their business once they start to earn much higher incomes.

How to choose a wealth manager

When choosing a wealth manager to work with, you’ll want to look at several things.

First, does the wealth management firm work with clients like you? Some wealth managers may focus on clients of a certain type and if your situation doesn’t fit with that type of client then that particular wealth manager may not be a good fit for you.

Second, you’ll want to look at the manager’s qualifications. Some criteria you might use in selecting a wealth manager include:

  • What professional designations do they hold? Examples might include CFP (Certified Financial Planner), CPA (Certified Public Accountant), CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst).
  • What is their level of experience in the wealth management space?
  • What services does the firm offer?
  • How often do you expect to communicate with them?
  • What types of fees do they charge?
  • Are they independent or part of a larger firm?

This table summarizes the basic differences between wealth managers, portfolio managers and financial advisors.

Wealth manager Portfolio manager Financial advisor
A wealth manager provides comprehensive, holistic advice in a broad range of financial and related areas.

These include, but are not limited to:

  • Investments
  • Tax and accounting services
  • Estate planning
  • Retirement planning
  • Comprehensive financial planning
  • Legal and estate planning
  • Philanthropy
A portfolio manager is focused on investment management and generally doesn’t offer advice or services in areas beyond investments. This professional focuses on: Financial advisor is a term that can encompass a number of services. Financial advisors often provide advice on investments, financial planning, retirement planning and other related areas. This professional focuses on:
  • Financial planning
  • Basic retirement planning
  • Tax planning
  • Investments

Wealth management strategies

Wealth management strategies will vary based on the specific needs of the client. Overall, the reason to use a wealth management firm is to seek strategies to help maintain and grow your overall wealth. This can mean different things to different people.

In general, wealth management entails coordinating all the moving parts of a client’s financial situation into a comprehensive wealth plan. This might include their tax situation, investments and retirement planning.

Examples of wealth management strategies include:

  • Developing a comprehensive investment strategy covering all of the client’s various types of investment and retirement accounts.
  • Coordinating an optimal tax planning strategy into their wealth planning.
  • Ensuring that the client’s estate plans reflect their desires.
  • Developing a succession plan for business owner clients.

Alternatives to wealth management

If the fees or asset minimums required by most wealth management firms seem too high for you, your situation is probably not a good fit for a wealth manager. For those whose situation may not be right for working with a wealth manager, there are other options for getting financial advice:

  • Personal Capital is an online advisory and wealth management firm that offers a number of services with lower minimums and fees than a traditional wealth management firm.
  • Vanguard Personal Advisor Services is a service offered by Vanguard that provides advice and planning to clients.

There are a number of other online financial advisory services and apps that have popped up in recent years offering a wide range of services that range from very basic financial advice to some of the aspects of what would be considered to be wealth management. Robo advisors have grown in popularity in recent years and might offer a lower cost alternative if you are not yet at a place financially where engaging the services of a traditional wealth management firm is feasible for you.

FAQs

What does a wealth manager do?

Wealth managers provide holistic financial advice to help their clients grow and protect their wealth. This advice goes beyond just providing advice on a client’s investments or designing a financial plan for them.

Wealth managers generally work with clients with a higher net worth than a financial planner might. They often work with professionals in related areas such as tax professionals and attorneys to help design a comprehensive wealth planning strategy for their clients.

How does a wealth manager get paid?

Wealth managers may be paid in a variety of ways. Two common compensation methods are a flat-fee arrangement or compensation based on a percentage of client assets under management.

What is the difference between a wealth manager and a financial planner?

Financial planner is a term that can mean a lot of things. Financial planners usually focus only on doing financial planning for their clients.

Wealth managers provide comprehensive, cross-disciplinary services for their generally high net worth clients. Financial planning is just a first step in most cases. They integrate this with tax planning, investment advice, estate planning and other services to help clients achieve their goals.

Learn more:

Written by
Roger Wohlner
Contributing writer
Roger Wohlner is a contributing writer for Bankrate.
Edited by
Senior wealth editor