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assets under management

Assets under management (AUM) refers to the market value of the assets a financial institution has discretion over. Increasing AUM is a primary goal of most brokeragesmutual funds and financial advisor firms, and many will use a high AUM as a selling point when marketing themselves to potential investors. How certain institutions define or calculate their AUM can differ slightly. So, it’s important to understand these differences before you use a firm’s AUM to make any decisions.

What Does Assets Under Management Mean?

While some institutions have differing methods of formulating it, assets under management is the value of the investments that some entity is in charge of managing, typically on behalf of a client or many clients.

Where institutions most frequently differ is regarding which specific investments should be included in the AUM calculation. As a general rule, AUM refers only to the values of those funds that it’s directly managing and investing on their clients’ behalf. In its instructions to financial advisors for filling out Form ADV, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) says to only include “the securities portfolios for which you provide continuous and regular supervisory or management services.”

Some money managers also include client bank accounts and separate mutual fund shares in their calculations, since they advise clients on how much to keep in the bank and how much to put in mutual funds. This is sometimes referred to as assets under advisement.

Usually when you hear about assets under management, it’s referring to the entirety of the assets that advisor or broker is managing. You might also hear your advisor use the term to refer to the value of the investments she’s managing for you alone. This is often the case when discussing financial advisor fees, for example. An advisor may charge 2% of your assets under management for her services. That’s not referring to all of the assets she manages. Rather, it refers to the assets you’ve placed in her care.

Why Assets Under Management Matters

assets under management

Among financial advisor firms, mutual funds and other financial institutions, AUM is quite a significant metric. These institutions will tout a high AUM as an indicator of success, particularly if it has grown over time.

The reasoning behind this claim is easy enough to understand. If a financial advisor firm has a larger AUM than a competitor, then that firm will claim that more people trust the firm to grow their investments than they trust the competitor. And if a firm’s AUM has grown over time, that’s proof that either the firm has attracted more customers, that the firm has grown its existing customers’ money, or both.

AUM isn’t the whole story of a financial institution, however. A firm with two high-net-worth clients, each with $5 million in assets, will have more in AUM than a firm with 25 clients, each with $100,000 in assets. However, the second firm has seen 23 more people choose it to handle their money than the first firm. It’s up to you whether you more highly value the firm that manages a large volume of clients, or the firm that is adept at managing the assets of high-net-worth clients.

AUM is also a key determinant determining whether financial advisors firms must register with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Firms with more than $100 in AUM are required by the SEC to disclose AUM each year, among other information, in a publicly accessible document called a Form ADV.

How to Calculate Assets Under Management

Different institutions have varied methods of calculating AUM. Some of these differences are structural — a mutual fund will calculate different than a financial advisor firm. Some, as well, are based on preference. For example, some institutions will have a looser definition of which assets count as under their discretion. This isn’t to say firms have total control on how they define AUM. The SEC also has rules that narrow down what can and can’t be included.

When it comes to actually calculating AUM, some sort of portfolio management software will do the work for you today. Where it may have involved a fair bit of manual number crunching in the past, computers handle calculating value and adding it all up now. Mutual funds, especially large funds, are constantly updating their AUM, which they may also refer to as net assets.

Because the calculation of AUM involves determining the market value of assets, any institution’s AUM will naturally fluctuate on a daily basis. This is because the value of investments like stock equity will fluctuate with the respective stock price. A mutual fund could start the day with $190 billion, have a great day at the office and end the day with $192 billion, simply because the existing assets increased in value.

Bottom Line

assets under management

Assets under management can mean slightly different things depending on the context in which you see it. It could refer to the value of total investment in a mutual fund, the market value of assets a financial advisor controls or the amount of money you have invested in a firm. Further, AUM can sometimes be helpful in determining the reputation of a financial institution. However, it’s best to refrain from using that as the only factor you review.

Tips for Finding a Financial Advisor

  • Looking for a financial advisor to manage your assets? Finding the right advisor that fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in 5 minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • A financial advisor’s assets under management is an important factor to consider when choosing whether to work with a firm. However, arguably more important is how they approach investing. While firms have overarching investing principles (for instance, favoring long-term investing), most will seek to strike a balance between equities, fixed income and cash that aligns with your goals and risk tolerance. SmartAsset’s asset allocation calculator can help you do just that.

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Hunter Kuffel, CEPF® Hunter Kuffel is a personal finance writer with expertise in savings, retirement and investing. Hunter is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance® (CEPF®) and a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing. He graduated from the University of Notre Dame and currently lives in New York City.
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