Compare Your Options
The Best Investment Companies or the Top Wealth Management Firms – Which Is Best for You?
Compare Which Investors Are Best Suited for Two Types of Financial Professionals
You’ve decided you want investing help from a financial professional. That’s good, because nearly everyone should get outside help with their financial affairs.
But what kind of investment professional is best for you? An investment company, wealth management company, financial advisor, investment manager, or financial planner? For that matter, how about a wealth advisor, investment advisor, or investment planner. We can keep interchanging these words, and it all starts to feel like the same thing.
While there is some overlap between many of these services, let’s focus on two of the most distinct ones: Investment companies and wealth management companies.
To understand the differences between investment companies and wealth management companies, use the following list of topics, or just read the article.
Table of Contents
- The Best Investment Companies or the Top Wealth Management Firms – Which Is Best for You?
- What Does an Investment Company Do?
- Examples of Investment Companies
- The Ideal Client for an Investment Company
- What to Look for in an Investment Company
- 5 Drawbacks of Using the Big Investment Companies
- Why Choose a Wealth Management Firm
- Drawbacks of Using a Wealth Management Firm
- How to Understand Your Investment Goals
- Hire a Professional Financial Advisor in Your Area
For the record, Pillar is a wealth management company that serves high net worth and ultra-high net worth investors who have between $5 million and $500 million in liquid assets.
If you fall into that exclusive category and want to ensure you achieve all your short and long term desired lifestyle outcomes, we would like to speak with you. Click below to have a quick introductory call.
Talk to a Private Wealth Management Firm
If you want a much more in-depth exploration into how to choose the best investment advisor for your situation, get our free authoritative guide, The Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Best Financial Advisor, for Investors With $5 Million to $500 Million in Liquid Assets.
What Does an Investment Company Do?
The simplest way to understand what investment companies do is to think of a pool. Investment companies tend to be large, because their business model is to pool money from many investors into a select group of centralized investment vehicles. Common types of investments include mutual funds, stocks, bond funds, money market funds, index funds, interval funds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), closed-end funds, real estate investment trusts, and unit investment trusts (UITs).
Investment companies use money from their customers and invest it in securities such as bonds, stocks, and other investment options.
Most investment companies specialize in self-directed brokerage accounts, in which customers can choose from a great variety of investing options such as mutual funds, bond funds, and even futures and options.
The big brokerage firms also allow for self-directed retirement accounts. In addition to all the same securities and mutual fund choices as brokerage accounts, self-directed IRA accounts let you invest in real estate, private equity, and things like gold, farmland, and various other types of investments.
The catch with self-directed accounts is, your investing decisions are up to you. It’s your time, and it’s your money. You can make money or lose money, and you’ll have no one to blame or congratulate other than yourself.
And to be clear, a self-directed IRA is different from a 401 k. Most 401 k accounts only offer a handful of investments to choose from. But a self-directed account will offer hundreds if not thousands of choices, and much more diversity among asset classes.
Whichever type of investment account you use, as the investments grow, the investment company takes a cut of the profits and passes on the remainder to their customers. Each bond and mutual fund charges different fees, and there is no legal or industry requirement. Some funds have very low fees, even under 0.1%. These are typically index funds. Others charge over 2%. When directly trading stocks at an investment company like E-Trade, you’ll be charged a commission for each trade you make.
According to the Securities and Exchange Commission, each type of fund has different features. Mutual funds and unit investment trusts, for example, can be redeemed at any time by investors by selling them back to the fund or the trust, directly or via a broker. The approximate sale price will be known based on the value of the shares that day.
Closed-end funds cannot be redeemed in this manner. Instead, they have to be sold to other investors on the secondary market, and the prices are not known until the sale is made.
To be considered an investment company and not a private investment opportunity, the available funds must have more than 100 investors.
Examples of Investment Companies
You have probably heard of the top investment companies. Also referred to as online brokers, they include companies like Vanguard, Fidelity Investments, Charles Schwab, and TD Ameritrade.
At these companies, any investor, no matter how much money they have (some do have a minimum investment requirement), can open an account, choose mutual funds, bonds, and other securities to invest in, and allocate their money as they see fit. These companies feel sort of like a bank to investors who use them, but with stocks and bonds instead of just standard interest-bearing or checking accounts.
Most investment companies offer some of the same services as banks, such as credit cards, and low interest investment options like money market funds. You can easily transfer your investment capital in and out of your accounts, and to different funds within the same account.
The big investment companies are structured so that their customers can engage with the company at whatever level they desire. You can do everything yourself, or you can access help from their investment management advisors for more individualized service.
These investment services are available online, and some investment management companies like Fidelity Investments and Charles Schwab also have physical branches in larger cities.
The Ideal Client for an Investment Company
A disturbing number of people have no plan for investing and very little money saved. They might have a 401 k, pension, or other retirement planning option through work, but they only participate because they have to. Some even forget they have it.
For newbies like this, investment companies offer a great opportunity to get serious about providing for your future. Even socking away a couple hundred dollars a month will produce a better outcome down the road. The ease of working with investment companies and their variety of investing options make them a good first step.
Investment companies are also a viable choice for anyone who has committed to make money through investing to build for their future. Such investors may even have several hundred thousand dollars invested in various mutual funds, ETFs, stocks, bonds, and other securities. Any good investment company will serve this sort of client well.
What to Look for in an Investment Company
Kiplingers ranks the top United States investment companies every year using a variety of criteria, including:
- • Commissions and fees
- • Range of investment choices
- • Mobile app functionality
- • Available tools
- • Research ability
- • Investment advisory services
- • User experience
You can see from those criteria that the large investment companies are attempting to appeal to a variety of preferences, needs, and interests.
Which type of investment company is best? Investors who care most about personal service from an investing professional should explore the advisory services at each investment company. An investor who wants to spend extra time doing it all themselves would seek a company with research information and tools that are easy to use, and that offers self-directed brokerage and IRA accounts.
If you choose to work with a big investment company, think about what matters most to you about the investing experience, and find a company that matches.
Who are the best investment companies?
As you can see, there is no single answer to this question. One investment company might be best for investors who want to do it themselves, while another might be best for those looking for a more comprehensive array of investment services, and still another might be best for those looking for the most easy-to-use online or mobile experience.
5 Drawbacks of Using the Big Investment Companies
There are at least five reasons to avoid investing the bulk of your assets and entrusting the successful achievement of all your most desired lifestyle outcomes to a large investment company.
1. Limited Expertise – You’re on Your Own
For investors looking for more personalized assistance and advice from elite investment experts, you will have a hard time finding it at the biggest investment companies.
These big companies are where many new financial advisors go for their first jobs, to learn their craft. They are trained by their supervisors to do it ‘their way,’ regardless of whether that’s best for their clients. Their investment advice does not come only from their own experience. It comes from what the investment company wants to sell you.
So, you will end up making a lot of your investing choices on your own. The investment company will give you information and advice, but you’ll have to do some work to make sure it’s what you want. You’ll still be on your own.
Plus, even the true experts at the big investment firms are not fiduciaries or Registered Investment Advisors (RIA). They are brokers and dealers, which means they probably earn a commission when they sell investment products like annuities, or mutual funds with higher fees than you should have to pay.
And, if you need expertise from specialists in fields like estate planning or tax accounting, you will not find it at the big investment companies. Pretty much all the experts in these fields run their own firms.
2. No Personalization
Big investment companies cannot offer true customization in their financial services. They have pre-set investing pathways. They have boxes, and they will fit their clients into them, one way or another.
This is still true even if you seek help from personal financial advisors at these firms. They are using company software, company methods, and serving company priorities. They cannot adapt to the ultra-specific needs, questions, life situations, and goals for each of their many thousands of clients.
You will also experience more turnover at the big investment management companies, as their personnel is constantly changing and shifting around. It is highly unlikely you will work with the same investment advisor for twenty years. You are a number, not a person.
Another aspect of de-personalization comes from their attempts to be all things to all clients. Because they’re offering so many financial services to people from all walks of life, anyone who seeks personalized and customized financial planning – the kind most high net worth investors want – has to compete for attention.
In 2018, Vanguard’s median average account size was $22,217. So, half the investors with Vanguard accounts have less than $22k. Vanguard simply doesn’t have the personnel, resources, or customized investment strategies to devote themselves fully to individual investors the way a private wealth advisory firm can.
3. Serving Their Supervisors’ Interest Before Yours
Big investment company advisors are not fiduciaries, and they will not always give investment advice that is in your best interests. They are serving another master – their company’s bottom line. They have quotas to meet and internally developed investment products to sell.
Do they think about the extra taxes you’ll pay when they recommend a trade that will incur short term capital gains? Do they tell you about that? Or are they just focused on the gross return? Net return is all that matters when it comes to investing. What good is 12% growth if you pay 40% of it in taxes?
Do they have a plan for adapting your investment portfolio if your life situation changes?
It’s not that your success doesn’t matter to them. Not at all. Again, these are good companies that offer a lot of great financial services. But your interests are not all they care about.
4. Weaker Investment Performance
Most investment companies and their advisors operate based on Wall Street’s investing methods and Wall Street’s beliefs. It’s how they were trained, and it’s all they know. This produces a fixation on raw returns to the exclusion of other factors that affect the performance of their clients’ investments.
They don’t consider things like costs and fees, unexpected life events, or the need for personalization and customization.
They won’t tell you about the failure of nearly every actively managed mutual fund to outperform or even keep pace with the market. If you ask, they will probably grudgingly admit it, but they’ll persist in sticking to their belief that with smart fund managers, good research, and good timing, many of their mutual funds and ETFs can outperform the market.
They can’t, and they won’t – especially over ten and twenty year periods.
If you want some data for this, Kiplingers reported in 2018 that 84% of large cap mutual funds unperformed against the S&P 500 over the previous five years. And those were good years – the heart of an 11 year bull market.
We have much more data on this, and much more to say about it in our free guide, The Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Best Financial Advisor, for Investors With $5 Million to $500 Million in Liquid Assets.
In that guide, you will be amazed by what you haven’t been told about the big investment companies. It is strongly recommended reading for every investor.
5. They Make Commissions
Investment companies make a lot of money selling investment products, or by directing their clients to particular mutual funds that have higher internal fees and commissions.
While the Securities Act of 1933 went a long way toward protecting investors in the United States from fraud and abuse, why pay a commission when you can get better investing outcomes without it?
Why Choose a Wealth Management Firm
An independent investment management firm that caters to the wealthy, in contrast to big investment companies, is not for everyone. It is designed specifically for people of affluence, because high net worth and ultra-high net worth investors and households have very different expectations from the businesses they work with.
Here are a few of those expectations:
1. Personal, ‘White Glove’ Service
When you call, you need someone to answer. When you have a special circumstance come up, you need someone who can take the time to address it. Why? Because when it comes to money and investments, the stakes get higher the more you have.
High net worth households are in the highest tax bracket. For this, you’re both vilified and celebrated in media. But let’s be clear about a few things:
You’ll pay the highest estate taxes and inheritance taxes.
You’ll lose the most when something goes wrong. This could be external like a business failure or a market downturn, or within your household, like a divorce or a child who publicly embarrasses themselves. Jeff Bezos lost $37 billion when he got divorced.
You have unique tax planning needs, because minimizing taxes wherever possible can save you millions over a lifetime.
You’re as concerned with building wealth as you are with protecting it. You have challenging decisions to make with what happens to your money after you die. No one’s life will change forever in a household with $200,000 net worth.
But if you have $20 million, it’s a very, very different story.
These reasons, and many others, are why we wrote The Art of Protecting Ultra-High Net Worth Portfolios and Estates, Strategies for Families worth $25 Million to $500 Million, the definitive work on what ultra-high net worth families need to know and do as they seek to maximize their lifestyles and influence.
Private, independent, fiduciary wealth advisory companies like Pillar deliver ‘white glove’ service at this level, because we understand you, and have structured our entire business to meet our clients’ expectations.
We take fewer clients, so we can serve you better and be part of your trusted team of experts. As your wealth builds, you’ll work with other experts too in life insurance, accounting, estate law, and other specialties.
Big investment companies simply don’t offer this level of service. It’s not their business model.
2. Customized Investment Planning
Wealth managers like Pillar don’t offer their clients an array of pre-defined investment options. We don’t just ask which level of risk “feels” right for you. The difference between that type of investment service and what we offer is like the difference between Little League baseball and the Major League All-Star Game.
If that sounds boastful, it’s not meant to be. It is an accurate description. We do not want to work with just anyone, so it’s not a problem if this turns some people away.
How is our investing process so different from the big investment companies? The best way to find out is to talk to us, and let us create a truly customized investment portfolio and then run it through our proprietary stress-testing process.
What you’ll experience along the way will feel good. It will be what you have always hoped to experience from an investment company.
Click below to plan your quick first call.
Talk to a Private Wealth Management Firm
The second way to explore our investing process requires less of a commitment. For more information, simply get our free eBook Improving Portfolio Performance, the Shifts Multi-Millionaires Must Make to Achieve Financial Security and Serenity, and you will understand how our investment advisors can help you achieve all your most desired lifestyle outcomes without stressing or burning yourself out for the rest of your life.
Our investment approach removes this burden from you, so you can actually enjoy the life your wealth was supposed to provide.
3. Optimized Investment Performance
As a high net worth investor, you don’t want the highest performance possible, because that comes with greater risks.
Investors who chase after that are the ones who lose 70% of their investment capital when the market collapses. We’ve seen it happen, far too many times, in families who have come to us after their previous advisors or investment companies left their portfolios in shambles.
It’s painful to watch.
But you also don’t want to miss out on building up your assets throughout your lifetime. What you’re looking for is what we call optimized investment performance. This investing approach optimizes the balance between risk, performance, and security.
We believe in consistently building wealth, to the highest degree possible, without suffering the big losses that make everyone panic when markets collapse.
We also work to minimize your taxes and other costs and fees, because any money saved is money you get to keep from your investment performance.
Imagine two investment managers, both of whom earn you 10% in gross returns. But one does nothing to avoid taxes, fees, interest, commissions, and many other costs you can end up paying.
Those can drag that 10% down to 5%. The other manager avoids or minimizes every cost imaginable, and earns you a net growth of 8.5%.
This is the difference between elite-level investment management like what Pillar provides, and big brokerage investment companies. For someone with a $20 million portfolio, that 3.5% annual difference is $700,000.
How much farther ahead can you get over ten, twenty, forty years, doing it our way?
Drawbacks of Using a Wealth Management Firm
Just as there are drawbacks to big investment firms, even the best wealth advisory companies have their downsides. This is not for everyone.
For instance, wealth managers may offer more financial services than you need. Maybe you have no kids and don’t need estate planning or life insurance. Maybe you’ve had one job your whole life and have just one retirement account, and are happy with it. Maybe you have a strong background in finance and investing, and you believe you can handle this. Maybe you even enjoy it. Most people don’t, but some do.
Also, you might not be as concerned with long term investment performance as other people. Maybe you don’t want your portfolio adjusted and re-balanced every quarter. Maybe you’re content watching your mutual funds, ETFs, and other investments rise and fall with the market within your investment company account. Some people really don’t care that much about earning 8%, 12%, or 6%. If that’s you, then you probably don’t need a wealth manager.
Another reason you might choose an investment company over a wealth manager is that you aren’t interested in talking about goals and dreams. You aren’t a planner, and don’t want to get into all that structure.
How to Understand Your Investment Goals
Let’s talk about goals for a moment. Do you have any personal finance ambitions or life dreams? Have you written any of them down, or at least thought about them? Here are some questions to consider:
1. Do you spend time doing what you really want to do?
2. Do you travel whenever and wherever you want?
3. Is there a cause in which you want to be involved?
4. Do you have any unfulfilled dreams?
5. When would you like to stop working or sell your business? Age, net worth?
6. Is your net worth and investment portfolio able to protect you from inflation, deflation, and depression?
7. If you become disabled – physically or mentally – will you be more than adequately provided for?
8. How will future tax laws affect your plan and your answers to these other questions?
9. How much of your estate do you want to pass on, to whom, and when – including while you’re still alive?
We have dozens more questions like this.
For the person who believes investment performance has no relationship to desired lifestyle outcomes, we would humbly suggest that such a person simply hasn’t thought about it enough.
Your answers to questions like this are inextricable from your investments. We approach investing with that mindset – that your financial plan should be tailored to meet your life goals, not just a certain number of dollars or a percentage of growth divorced from any context.
If you want an investment plan that assures you the chance of experiencing the answers to those questions, then a big investment company is not the right path for you. They simply don’t offer service at that level.
We do. In fact, this is all we do, and we love doing it, because we love seeing our high net worth friends live out their desired lifestyles and have the influence and impact they want to have on the world and in the people they care about.
Hire a Professional Financial Advisor in Your Area
The truth is, it’s actually not that important to work with a wealth advisor in your area. With today’s technology, you can do online meetings just as easily (and more safely) than in-person meetings. Documents are easy to sign and transfer. Accounts can be opened and closed online.
There’s almost nothing that has to be done in person anymore. For most investors, it’s about finding the best investment company or the best wealth manager, period. Location irrelevant. How many people who have money in Charles Schwab or Fidelity Investments live near their headquarters or one of their branches? Hardly any.
Private, independent wealth advisors are no different.
So if what you’ve read here has clarified that your money and capital are best suited for a big investment company, then use the top 10 lists you can find online, and pick the one that seems best for you.
If what you’ve read has made it clear you need more personalized, customized, concierge-style investing service and financial planning, and the most optimized investment management and performance possible, then look for a top wealth management firm.
You can start by talking to us and see if we’re a good fit.
Talk to a Private Wealth Management Firm