Individually Managed Accounts (IMAs) and Separately Managed Accounts (SMAs) both offer investors a highly transparent managed share portfolio while avoiding the tax distortions that come with pooled investment vehicles such as managed funds.However, there are some important differences between individually and separately managed accounts and while they may sound very similar, these differences can have a significant impact on investment performance, suitability, and tax effectiveness.In General, Separately Managed Accounts are a good alternative to managed funds for many investors, while investors with $1 million or more, are likely to find the features of an IMA more compelling.The key differences between the two types of managed accounts rests in their approach to building an investment portfolio.SMAs are constructed with a ‘model portfolio’ where each investor receives precisely the same portfolio, based on a template created by the fund manager. IMAs however, are constructed individually for each investor, although each account will share some common holdings. These two approaches have some important differences:Investors in a SMA may buy stocks that have already enjoyed most of their returns, but remain in the model portfolio to avoid realising capital gains tax. IMA investors however will receive a portfolio that is assembled incrementally, as attractive opportunities arise.For the same reason, new investors in Separately Managed Accounts will receive a larger position in stocks that have already performed well, while IMA investors are likely to receive larger holdings in stocks the investment manager believes will perform well in future.IMAs also provide the ability to tailor the portfolio to the investor’s circumstances. For instance, an IMA manager may place more weight on generating franked dividends for a SMSF, while long term capital appreciation could be more valuable for an investor with a high tax rate. These differences in investment management help produce good after tax results for each investor. Since every investor in a SMA receives the same portfolio, the Separately Managed Account manager cannot factor individual considerations into their management.Both structures will allow the transfer an existing portfolio, with the IMA providing some additional flexibility and tax advantages. When importing an existing portfolio into a SMA, only those shares contained in the model portfolio will be retained and only to the proportion held in the model portfolio. Therefore, investors may still realise capital gains when entering an SMA. Conversely, a diligent IMA manager will adapt the existing portfolio over time and with consideration to tax events.Both offer tax effective investment management to tax conscience investors.For investors wishing to exclude individual stocks or sectors, an Individually Managed Account manager will hold alternative positions, while the SMA will generally hold cash in lieu of the excluded positions. This can have a significant impact on the portfolio’s overall returns.In executing trades, SMA investors will generally receive ‘at market’ prices on their transactions, while an IMA manager may attempt to get best execution and/or exercise discretion over the timing of buys and sells.Service levels are also different, with holders of Separately Managed Accounts receiving a service akin to a managed fund. while those using Individually Managed Accounts have ongoing access to the fund manager responsible for their portfolio and will likely receive personalised reporting.
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