How is Your Reputation?


In some cases, reputation matters more than anything else. For financial providers, the reputation of their advisors is the key to retaining customers and increasing business.

Our quarterly wealth segmentation series Advisor Relationship and Changing Advice Requirements surveyed investors to determine what companies they believe have talented advisors. Picking from a list of almost 30 choices, investors proved that most companies have some positive reputation in that area, and some get significantly high marks in that area.

“A financial provider’s reputation is created in large part by the performance of the advisors who work for that company, so it is important that the providers and advisors know how investors feel about the quality of the advisors,’’ said Spectrem president George H. Walper Jr. “Although investors do have a large list of companies to work with, quality advisors do tend to attract more investors through word of mouth recommendations from friends or family members.”

Our study segments investors into three groups: Mass Affluent (with a net worth between $100,000 and $1 million), Millionaire (with a net worth between $1 million and $5 million) and Ultra High Net Worth (with a net worth between $5 million and $25 million). While there are similarities between the lists of top advisors per segment, there are also noticeable differences.

Among Mass Affluent investors, Edward Jones is rated No. 1 for having the best advisors for the last three years. In 2015, 9 percent of Mass Affluent investors selected that company. Fidelity was selected by 8 percent, followed by Ameriprise at 6 percent, Wells Fargo and Merrill Lynch at 5 percent, and Morgan Stanley at 4 percent. Among Mass Affluent investors, Wells Fargo has dropped from a high of 8 percent in 2013 to the current 5 percent level.

For the second year in a row, Fidelity was the top choice for best advisors among Millionaires, with 8 percent of investors making that selection. Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo each got the nod from 7 percent, Edwards Jones got 6 percent and Merrill Lynch got 5 percent of Millionaire investors. Again, in 2013, Wells Fargo was the top choice among Millionaires for best advisors.

Ultra High Net Worth investors seem a bit more congregated. Eleven percent of UHNW investors selected Merrill Lynch as the company with the top advisors, although Fidelity was the No. 1 company in 2014 at 10 percent and Morgan Stanley was No. 1 in 2013 with 12 percent. In 2015, Morgan Stanley and Fidelity each had 9 percent, Wells Fargo had 8 percent, and Charles Schwab and vanguard each had 4 percent among UHNW investors.

Investors were surveyed on what characteristics of an advisor appeal to an investor. Asked to select one quality as most important when preparing to choose a new advisor, 31 percent of Millionaire investors selected “individual is perceived as being honest and trustworthy”. That selection received almost twice as much support among Millionaires as the second choice, “investment track record of advisor” (17 percent). Also receiving 17 percent as the No. 1 trait when choosing a new advisor was “individual comes with a strong referral or recommendation from a trusted associate”.

Others receiving at least 10 percent of the investor selections were “Individual is associated with a well-known brand or company” (10 percent) and “fees or commissions charged (10 percent).