No. of Recommendations: 1
From what I understand of your question and about SSB's offerings, there are a couple of options you may be looking at:

(1) traditional brokerage services, and
(2) managed accounts, or private portfolios.

I'll briefly discuss each and then give you my 2 cents.

In the former (1), SSB charges you for buying a stock through your broker, and in many instances for buying and/or selling mutual funds or unit investment trusts (UITs). They also make money on their proprietary (SSB) mutual funds and UITs. (UITs are similar to mutual funds; those that I know about at SSB basically buy "selected" stocks and hold them for a period (often 1 year). As other posters have (I think) alluded to, they lose the flexibility to adjust the portfolio during that period, and by their structure they necessarily generate substantial tax liabilities on any capital gains.)

You can also get a managed account (2) with SSB if you give them at least $50,000. Under this option, you get an advisor who manages a stock portfolio for you. You do not pay a fee for transactions; rather, you pay a total annual fee of ~2%.

Managed accounts have been gaining in popularity at brokerages, while the traditional brokerage option declines. (A principal reason is that managed accounts avoid "churning" and other incentive problems inherent with a traditional broker. I.e., a traditional broker has an incentive to move you in and out of stocks, funds, etc., because he makes money on each transaction; this high turnover is generally a way to throw away money. In contrast, an account manager who is paid a fixed annual fee has only the incentive to maximize your after-tax return, thereby growing your asset base and his expected long-run return -- in theory anyway.)

The problem is, as others here have pointed out, is that both options, traditional brokerages and managed accounts, have very high costs. The big brokerage houses make a lot of money on both. Traditional brokerages have been under pressure since discounters, and now deep discount online brokerages, offer essentially the same service for much lower cost, like $10-20/trade. Managed accounts are the big brokerages' attempt to recoup some of that money.

The question remains whether the SSB account manager can consistently beat the overall market on an after-tax, risk-adjusted basis by at least 2% per year (your annual fee). Theory suggests that's extremely difficult to do, and my guess would be that most of these managers are very unlikely to do it. If they were that good, they'd be opening their own hedge funds, not working for you at SSB. So, I agree with most of the other people here that you're almost certainly better off putting your equity investment in total market index funds than in an SSB managed account.

In general, I would start looking seriously at SSB and other big brokerages only if you're a high net worth individual able to access their private banking services -- which means you have at least $500,000 to give them, and substantial funds (at least a few million) on top of that. Assuming that's not the case, though, I'd avoid the fees and go elsewhere.
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