Foundations & Endowments

How To Build An Index Fund Portfolio For High Net Worth Individuals

How To Build An Index Fund Portfolio For High Net Worth Individuals
March 12, 2024

Index funds provide a simple, low-cost way for investors to gain broad exposure to financial markets. As legendary investor Warren Buffett has said, "Consistently buy an S&P 500 low-cost index fund. I think it's the thing that makes the most sense practically all of the time."1 However, high net worth individuals and families have unique needs when it comes to building an investment portfolio. Their higher wealth levels allow them access to sophisticated strategies beyond basic index funds.

This guide will provide high net worth investors with specific recommendations on how to incorporate index funds effectively into their portfolios. We will cover:

  • Assessing financial goals and risk profiles
  • Choosing the right mix of core index funds
  • Strategies to optimize taxes and manage risk
  • Customizing your index fund portfolio
  • Rebalancing over time

Properly integrating low-cost index funds can help high net worth investors  target  returns while preserving long-term wealth..

Step 1: Assess Financial Goals and Risk Tolerance

The first step in portfolio construction is gaining clarity on your financial objectives and risk appetite. This will dictate the optimal asset allocation across stocks, bonds, and other securities.

As a high net worth investor, it's important to think beyond basic retirement planning. Consider legacy planning goals, charitable initiatives, funding for grandchildren's education, and multi-generational asset transfers. Evaluate all current and future cash flow needs both before and during retirement.2

A methodical assessment will determine the right level of risk required to achieve your goals. Those with longer time horizons can generally accept higher volatility in pursuit of compound growth. More conservative investors may prioritize wealth preservation and income generation.

Step 2: Identify Core Index Funds

The foundation of your portfolio should be low-cost, diversified equity and fixed income index funds.

For U.S. equities, target funds tracking the S&P 500 or total U.S. stock market. 3

For international exposure, funds tracking the MSCI ACWI ex USA Index or FTSE Global All Cap ex US Index provide a broad mix of emerging and developed market stocks. T4

In terms of allocation, a reasonable starting point may be60% equities and 40% fixed income. This provides growth potential while limiting risk and volatility.  Always be sure to consult with a financial professional regarding your specific situation to determine an allocation that fits your personal investment profile. 

Step 3: Consider Tax Efficiency

Actively managing the tax impact of investments is vital for high net worth investors. This requires a focus on asset location, strategic loss harvesting, and managing capital gains distributions.

First, position tax inefficient assets like bonds, REITs, and commodities in tax-advantaged accounts like 401(k)s and IRAs. Tax-efficient stock index funds can be held in taxable brokerage accounts. 6

Next, harvest losses in your taxable accounts by selling positions down 30% or more. This generates losses to offset realized capital gains. Be aware of wash sale rules and time trades appropriately.

Finally, consider usingindex mutual funds over ETFs to control taxable events. Mutual funds trade less frequently so they distribute fewer capital gains to investors compared to ETFs.7

A tax-aware approach to indexing can save hundreds of thousands in taxes over decades, if done effectively..

Step 4: Customize With Alternative Assets

One advantage of high net worth is access to sophisticated alternative investments like private equity, venture capital, and hedge funds. Allocating 20-40% of your portfolio to alternatives can enhance diversification.

Private real estate is an especially compelling option now amid rising rates and inflation. Non-traded REITs provide exposure to commercial real estate assets sourced directly by the issuer. 8

Many leading wealth management firms now offer high net worth investors access to private market alternatives like private equity/debt funds and private credit. These assets can produce equity-like returns uncorrelated to traditional indexes.

Step 5: Rebalance Over Time

Maintain your desired asset allocation by rebalancing at least annually. This forces you to sell high and buy low. It also maintains your predetermined risk profile.

Slowly shift assets to fixed income and alternatives as you approach retirement. Most target date indexes glide to 40% equities/60% fixed income mix by age 65. Adding more alternatives like private real estate can further diversify.

Be disciplined about rebalancing while incorporating low-cost index funds. This builds wealth and mitigates risk over the long term.


Index funds should play a key role in any high net worth portfolio strategy given their historical  ability to pace market returns over decades. Follow the steps outlined to optimize your asset mix, manage taxes, and customize with alternatives. Maintain discipline by rebalancing annually. Blend index fund investing with active tax and risk management to help build generational wealth.

This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. This content does not involve the rendering of personalized investment advice and should not be construed as an offer to buy or sell securities mentioned herein.  Before making any investment decisions, you should consult with your own professional advisers and consider all of the particular facts and circumstances of your individual situation.  Alternative investments and hedge funds involve a high degree of risk and can be illiquid due to restrictions on transfer and lack of a secondary trading market. They can be highly leveraged, speculative and volatile, and an investor could lose all or a substantial amount of an investment.