A growing trend in our industry is for investors to enjoy more control over their portfolios. Custom indexing, which gives investors the power to specify their circumstances and views at the single-security level, is the most recent step in the evolution of customization for individual investors. Like other innovations before it, custom indexing is a disruptor that the industry first viewed as an outlier, only to see it become a norm after some inflection point. The establishment of the first mutual fund in 1924 opened investing to a broader population of investors. But the mutual fund industry was primarily active, which meant each investor faced a take-it-or-leave-it decision. In 1975 John Bogle launched the first public index fund, which provided investors with a modest amount of customization by removing security selection from the process. Index fund growth remained modest until the vehicle’s popularity began rising in the mid-1980s. The first exchange-traded fund (ETF) was launched in 1993, and the number and variety of available ETFs blossomed over the subsequent decades. By 2010 investors could use ETFs to create relatively specific multiasset portfolios with exposures to different countries, sectors, or factors.
Custom separately managed accounts (SMAs) may seem to many like the newest in this line of innovations. However, Parametric has been managing custom SMAs for over two decades. We have direct experience with the benefits that customization at the security level has provided to investors. Customization at its core allows an investor’s portfolio to be managed consistent with their specific rules, exclusions, or tax situations. Customization also creates a flexible structure that can be adjusted through time as an investor’s needs change—because, after all, life happens.
Why do investors want to customize?
Each investor brings to their portfolio a different set of views and objectives. Some investors may like growth stocks, while others are more partial to value stocks. One investor may be more biased toward international markets over domestic markets or municipal bonds over higher-yielding corporate bonds. Whatever the case, customization allows the investor to easily reflect these views in their portfolio.
More differences arise when we consider what the investor is trying to achieve with their portfolio. Are they saving to fund retirement, buy a house, fund a college education, or all of the above? Every investor potentially has a different savings objective, which will likely change through time as the investor changes jobs, has children, or experiences a medical emergency. Customization allows the investor to reflect their current objectives in their portfolio, down to the security level.
But the benefits of customization go far beyond security selection. Management of gains and timely realization of losses across different tax regimes can materially improve long-term after-tax performance. Higher taxes, like those being proposed by the Biden administration, will make thoughtful tax management even more critical in the years ahead. Investors are also looking beyond financial returns and seeking to use their investments to achieve positive outcomes for society that are meaningful to them. They may choose to avoid investments in industries like gambling, weapons, or pornography or to engage as shareholders with companies where they see the opportunity for meaningful change. A customized SMA is the best way to achieve these objectives on an ongoing basis.