Model Portfolios on the Rise as Financial Advisory Firms Emphasize Client Experience, Finds Natixis Survey

  • Eight in ten advisory firms and brokerage houses in US and Canada are looking to model portfolios to manage a greater share of discretionary assets; gatekeepers of their investment platforms are expanding model offerings, including adding ESG and alternative options
  • Professional fund selectors are optimistic about the markets in 2021, but predict volatility will be the biggest threat to returns; their key calls favor an actively managed, risk-on approach
  • More than eight in ten professional fund selectors agree that model portfolios provide an added layer of discipline and oversight to investment decision-making
  • Three-quarters worry that greater trading access among inexperienced investors is a threat to their financial security

BOSTON–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Model portfolios are nearly ubiquitous on US investment advisory platforms, with assets set to rise amid an expanding array of model options, according to a survey by Natixis Investment Managers of the central gatekeepers, or professional selectors of the funds available on their firm’s investment platform. Eighty-four percent of fund selectors in the US and Canada currently offer model portfolios, and over half (52%) say that moving a larger share of client assets into models is a key objective for their firm in the year ahead.

Natixis surveyed 400 professional fund selectors globally, including 133 in North America, about business and portfolio strategies and their market outlook for 2021. Respondents include chief investment officers, directors and investment team members at independent financial advisory firms, broker-dealers/wirehouses, registered investment advisors, private banks, and family offices. The survey found greater use of model portfolios among firms in the US than in any other region, with similar trends across the US and Canada.

“Model portfolios offer the best of both worlds: scale and personalization,” said Marina Gross, Executive Vice President of Natixis’ Portfolio Research and Consulting Group. “By operationalizing portfolio construction, with centrally guided investment research, asset allocation and rebalancing, model portfolios make the investment process more efficient and responsive to changes in the market and clients’ goals.”

Six in ten (60%) professional fund selectors in the US and Canada say that the primary benefit of using model portfolios is that they provide clients across the firm with a more consistent investment experience. The next most frequently cited benefit is that by using model portfolios versus building individual investment portfolios from scratch, advisors can spend more time addressing their clients’ needs (41%).

Few fund selectors, just 19%, have experienced challenges convincing financial advisors of the merits of model portfolios for managing at least a portion of their clients’ assets. The two top challenges they cite are providing customization options within their model portfolio offering (45%), and knowing when to add new or enhanced models (39%). In rationalizing their firm’s overall investment product offering, 80% of fund selectors say their focus is on quality, not quantity.

Sixty percent (60%) of fund selectors report that they are finding a greater need for specialty models to complement the core models on their platform. As they look to enhance their offering over the next 12 to 24 months, 54% plan to add environmental, social and governance (ESG)-focused models, with nearly two-thirds (64%) agreeing that models make it easier to implement ESG across portfolios. Other planned additions include models with thematic sleeves that focus on areas such as longevity or disruptive technology (45%), alternative (36%) and tax-aware models (32%).

“The attractiveness of model portfolios reflects a heightened, industry-wide focus on the client experience and an evolving advisory business model that emphasizes the value of personalized planning and advice, including and beyond investment performance,” said Dave Goodsell, Executive Director of Natixis’ Center for Investor Insight. “Models make sense, both from a firm brand perspective and for advisors managing the growth of their practice in a market that’s increasingly complex to navigate.”

Market Outlook Calls for Opportunistic, Disciplined, Active Management

Eight in ten (84%) fund selectors say that model portfolios, whether built and rebalanced internally or by third party asset managers, provide an added layer of due diligence in investment selection. The importance of rigorous research and disciplined portfolio rebalancing could only increase in a market that 84% of fund selectors believe will favor active fund management in the year ahead. Two-thirds (67%) report that in 2020, the actively managed funds on their platforms outperformed during the market downturn. Seventy percent expect actively managed funds will outperform passive in 2021.

When asked about their outlook for the markets and economy, at least half expect increased volatility in the stock (50%) and bond (53%) markets this year, with corrections in technology (52%) and cryptocurrency (52%). Nearly two-thirds (65%) point to volatility as the top risk to portfolio performance, and many professional fund selectors wonder how investors will handle market swings. Eighty-seven percent believe that retail investors have been more apt to carelessly speculate on high-risk investments since before Covid-19. The market surged in the second half of last year, yet 68% of professional fund selectors worry many individual investors will prematurely liquidate their investments during bouts of volatility. Three-quarters (77%) fear that giving greater trading access to inexperienced retail investors could ultimately be a threat to investors’ financial security and income in retirement.

The vast majority (88%) of fund selectors think people equate a strong stock market with a strong economy, yet nearly three-quarters (74%) don’t believe the global economy can escape the consequences of Covid-19. Most (79%) don’t expect real economic recovery until they see a sign that companies are increasing capital expenditures.

Private Assets Will Be a Focus

Despite rising risks and volatility, fund selectors are optimistic about finding growth opportunities in the market. Their long-term investment return assumptions call for average annual growth of 7.6%, and 70% expect their firm’s assumed rate of return will be the same or higher in 2021. Their projections for year-end headlines suggest they will favor a risk-on approach, with 60% calling for aggressive growth strategies to outperform defensive strategies.

At the same time, their forecasts suggest a need for deep, diligent research and analysis with tactical shifts in portfolio allocations. Sixty-five percent expect small-cap and value stocks to outperform large-cap and growth stocks this year.

Six in ten (62%) fund selectors also believe the demand for private equity investments will increase in the year ahead, particularly given their resilience during the pandemic. As they calibrate their portfolios for future growth, half (50%) expect private assets to play a more prominent role. In the year ahead, they plan to increase private asset funds, including private equity (48%), private debt (46%), infrastructure (45%) and real estate (45%).

The full report, “Headed for the Light,” is available for download at


Natixis Investment Managers surveyed 400 professional fund selectors globally in 21 countries through the United States, Canada, Latin America, Asia, the United Kingdom and EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa). In the US and Canada combined, Natixis surveyed 133 fund selectors. Respondents included chief investment officers, directors and investment team members at independent financial advisors, wirehouses, registered investment advisors, insurance company investment platforms, private banks and family offices. Data were gathered in November and December 2020 by the research firm CoreData.

About the Natixis Investment Institute

The Natixis Investment Institute applies Active Thinking® to critical issues shaping the investment landscape. A global effort, the Institute combines expertise in the areas of investor sentiment, macroeconomics, and portfolio construction within Natixis Investment Managers, along with the unique perspectives of our affiliated investment managers and experts outside the greater Natixis organization. Our goal is to fuel a more substantive discussion of issues with a 360° view of markets and insightful analysis of investment trends.

About Natixis Investment Managers

Natixis Investment Managers serves financial professionals with more insightful ways to construct portfolios. Powered by the expertise of more than 20 specialized investment managers globally, we apply Active Thinking® to deliver proactive solutions that help clients pursue better outcomes in all markets. Natixis Investment Managers ranks among the world’s largest asset management firms1 with nearly $1.1 trillion assets under management2 (€910.0 billion).

Headquartered in Paris and Boston, Natixis Investment Managers is a subsidiary of Natixis. Listed on the Paris Stock Exchange, Natixis is a subsidiary of BPCE, the second-largest banking group in France. Natixis Investment Managers’ affiliated investment management firms include AEW; Alliance Entreprendre; AlphaSimplex Group; DNCA Investments;3 Dorval Asset Management; Flexstone Partners; Gateway Investment Advisers; H2O Asset Management; Harris Associates; Investors Mutual Limited; Loomis, Sayles & Company; Mirova; MV Credit; Naxicap Partners; Ossiam; Ostrum Asset Management; Seeyond; Seventure Partners; Thematics Asset Management; Vauban Infrastructure Partners;Vaughan Nelson Investment Management; Vega Investment Managers;4 and WCM Investment Management. Additionally, investment solutions are offered through Natixis Investment Managers Solutions, and Natixis Advisors offers other investment services through its AIA and MPA division. Not all offerings available in all jurisdictions. For additional information, please visit Natixis Investment Managers’ website at | LinkedIn:

Natixis Investment Managers’ distribution and service groups include Natixis Distribution, L.P., a limited purpose broker-dealer and the distributor of various U.S. registered investment companies for which advisory services are provided by affiliated firms of Natixis Investment Managers, Natixis Investment Managers S.A. (Luxembourg), Natixis Investment Managers International (France), and their affiliated distribution and service entities in Europe and Asia.

1 Cerulli Quantitative Update: Global Markets 2020 ranked Natixis Investment Managers as the 17th largest asset manager in the world based on assets under management as of December 31, 2019.

2 Assets under management (“AUM”) as of September 30, 2020 is $1,067.3 billion. AUM, as reported, may include notional assets, assets serviced, gross assets, assets of minority-owned affiliated entities and other types of non-regulatory AUM managed or serviced by firms affiliated with Natixis Investment Managers.

3 A brand of DNCA Finance.

4 A wholly-owned subsidiary of Natixis Wealth Management.

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