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Tax-Managed SMAs: Better Than ETFs?

September 23, 2020

Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are popular vehicles for investors seeking passive, index-based market exposures. Yet despite their popularity, there are structural issues that make them less than ideal for many high-net-worth investors. A tax-managed separately managed account (SMA) may deliver the same diversified, index-like exposure while offering increased after-tax returns for these investors. Parametric research has shown that this return advantage can be as large as 2% annualized on an after-tax, after-fee basis. Additionally, tax-managed SMAs allow greater control over the underlying securities. This gives investors more governance over their portfolio’s tax efficiency and enables customizations that reflect their investment objectives and responsible investing principles. 

This paper offers a description of how ETFs and tax-managed SMAs work, and it demonstrates the advantages of using tax-managed SMAs for tax efficiency and customization. For many high-net-worth investors, these benefits can be substantial—and they reinforce why advisors should consider tax-managed SMAs when selecting a passive market exposure.

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Rey Santodomingo, CFA

Managing Director, Investment Strategy (emeritus)

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Andrew Subkoviak, CFA

Senior Investment Strategist

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