With nearly 5,000 funds available in the U.S. alone, the right financial advisor is essential in finding funds that fit long-term financial objectives.

The concept of "open architecture" has created some more subtle changes in the wealth management landscape, too.

Financial institutions are competing aggressively for access to the top money managers and many firms now turn to outside managers to fill in gaps in their own product lines, or even to mask poor performance.

"If you perform better, you attract more clients," said Mark Sear, an investment manager and senior vice president at Merrill Lynch's Private Banking and Investment Group. Sear works on one of 10 wealth management teams at Merrill Lynch in Los Angeles. "Some of these managers have been investing for 20 to 30 years. We want the same guy who's been there over the long haul, or their prot & #233;g & #233;, and we look closely at their performance in difficult environments."

Not every firm has bought into open architecture. A few, notably Sanford Bernstein & Co., have refused to bow to pressure and keep their clients assets largely in-house.

"If you're in asset management, there are 80 people competing against you," said Hal Harley, managing director and head of Deutsche Bank's Private Wealth Management office in Los Angeles. "It's a very small community here, and your reputation is the most important thing. I often tell clients that it's your money and my reputation, and we don't want to lose either one of those."


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