Understanding Discretionary vs. Non-Discretionary Model Portfolio Services

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By John Wick

When investors seek to grow their wealth through financial markets, they often turn to model portfolio services offered by investment firms. These services, which can also be used as retirement investments, provide a structured approach to investing, typically offering diversified portfolios that are managed according to specific strategies and risk profiles. However, there are two primary types of model portfolio services: discretionary and non-discretionary. Understanding the differences between these two can help investors make informed decisions about which service best suits their needs.

Discretionary Model Portfolio Service

A discretionary model portfolio service, sometimes also known as a managed portfolio service, allows investment managers to make decisions on behalf of their clients without needing to obtain prior approval for each transaction. In this arrangement, the client grants the manager the authority to manage the portfolio according to the agreed-upon strategy and objectives. Here are some key features of discretionary services:

  1. Autonomy of the Manager:
    • Investment managers have the freedom to act swiftly to capitalize on market opportunities or mitigate risks. This can be particularly advantageous in volatile markets where timely decisions are crucial.
  2. Efficiency:
    • Since the manager does not need to seek approval for every trade, the administrative burden is reduced, leading to quicker execution of trades and potential cost savings.
  3. Expertise Utilization:
    • Investors benefit from the manager’s expertise and market insights, which can lead to better-informed investment decisions and potentially higher returns.
  4. Time-Saving:
    • Clients can save time as they are not involved in the day-to-day decision-making process, allowing them to focus on other priorities.

Despite these advantages, there are some considerations:

  • Trust and Control: Investors need to have a high level of trust in the manager, as they relinquish control over the individual investment decisions.
  • Cost: Discretionary services can sometimes come with higher fees due to the active management and expertise involved.

Non-Discretionary Model Portfolio Service

In a non-discretionary model portfolio service, the investment manager provides advice and recommendations, but the final decision-making authority rests with the client. The manager will suggest trades or adjustments based on the model portfolio’s strategy, but each trade requires the client’s approval. Key features include:

  1. Client Control:
    • Clients retain full control over their investment decisions, approving or rejecting each trade. This can be reassuring for those who prefer to be actively involved in their investments.
  2. Personalized Guidance:
    • While the manager provides recommendations, clients can tailor their decisions based on their personal preferences, risk tolerance, and investment goals.
  3. Engagement:
    • Non-discretionary services often lead to greater engagement from the client, who remains actively involved in the investment process.

However, this approach also has its challenges:

  • Time-Consuming: Clients must spend more time reviewing and approving trades, which can be cumbersome, especially for those with busy schedules.
  • Potential Delays: The need for approval can cause delays in executing trades, which might result in missed opportunities or suboptimal timing in fast-moving markets.
  • Responsibility: Clients bear the responsibility for the outcomes of their decisions, which can be stressful, particularly for those less confident in their investment knowledge.

Choosing the Right Service

The choice between discretionary and non-discretionary model portfolio services depends on several factors:

  1. Investment Knowledge and Experience:
    • Investors with extensive knowledge and a desire to stay actively involved may prefer non-discretionary services. In contrast, those who lack time or expertise might benefit from the hands-off approach of discretionary services.
  2. Trust in the Manager:
    • Discretionary services require a high level of trust in the investment manager’s capabilities and integrity. Building this trust can be crucial before opting for such a service.
  3. Desire for Control:
    • Investors who want to maintain control over individual trades and decisions may find non-discretionary services more suitable.
  4. Time Availability:
    • Those with limited time to devote to managing their investments might find discretionary services more convenient and efficient.


Both discretionary and non-discretionary model portfolio services offer unique advantages and challenges. Discretionary services provide the benefit of professional management with minimal client involvement, ideal for those seeking efficiency and expert handling of their investments. On the other hand, non-discretionary services offer greater control and engagement for clients who prefer to be actively involved in the decision-making process. Understanding these differences allows investors to choose a service that aligns with their investment goals, risk tolerance, and lifestyle preferences.