While the financial markets have posted another year of strong returns, overall investor satisfaction as measured by the J.D. Power 2015 U.S. Full Service Investor Satisfaction StudySM remains unchanged from 2014. This marks the first time since 2009 that industry satisfaction did not increase in parallel with the S&P 500.
A reduced market growth rate relative to 2014 coupled with increased volatility may partially account for the lack of improvement, although myriad factors within the industry are also changing as new competitive threats emerge and investor expectations evolve along with technology and demographics. Additional high-level findings emerging from the study include:
- Improvements in overall satisfaction for large market share firms contribute to the stable industry average in 2015.
- Firms that build strong client-focused relationships mitigate the impact of market volatility.
- While overall satisfaction is stable, investors’ outlook on the economy in general and their personal financial status continue to rise for the fourth consecutive year.
In addition to identifying the primary drivers of investor satisfaction and benchmarking the performance of firms, the Full-Service Investor Study also provides valuable insights on pertinent industry trends such as:
- Changing investor demographics: Gen Y/Z and women
- Wealth transfer
- Preparing advisors for success
- Planning and goals-based investing
- Providing transparency on performance and fees
- Changing competitive landscape
Results from the 2015 Full-Service Investor Study were released to subscribers the week of April 6th.
The ‘value’ of female investors is growing. As the percentage of females graduating college and opening small businesses increases, so does the proportion of America’s investable assets held by the female population. For investment advisors and firms, their ability to satisfy the unique needs of female investors will help them capture a greater share of the investable assets held by the female population.
Data from the 2014 J.D. Power U.S. Full-Service Investor Satisfaction Study helps to identify some underlying characteristics of female investors. For example, women investors tend to place more value on a ‘trusting’ relationship with an investment advisor, and are more likely to collaborate closely with their investment advisor.
Data also indicates that women investors are more ‘critical’ of advisors that fail to engage them in discussions regarding their investment goals, strategies and performance. For example, when an advisor fails to fully educate a client on their investment portfolio, the negative impact^ on satisfaction is significantly greater among females than males (-104 vs. -76, respectively, on a 1,000-point scale).
Key takeaways for investment firms and advisors and to consider:
-Firms need to review the way they recruit, train, team and incent advisors to better align with behaviors that will drive stronger long term client relationships with an increasingly diverse set of financial decision makers
– Advisors need to be proactive in developing a meaningful dialogue with women clients to establish personal goals and provide a clear ongoing understanding of how performance connects with those goals
^ ‘Impact’ is defined as the difference in satisfaction when the service best practice is met vs. not met
Data from the J.D. Power 2014 Self-Directed Investor Satisfaction Study finds that customer satisfaction can be significantly impacted by improving the awareness and usage of website functionality.
For example, ensuring that customers are aware of ‘financial planning tools’ can improve Website satisfaction by 87 index points (on a 1,000-point scale). Taking it a step further, ensuring that customers actually use ‘financial planning tools’ can drive an additional improvement of 28 index points.
Awareness of website features can also vary widely across the different firms measured in the study. Therefore, it is critical for each firm to understand where their customers may require additional education on website functionality or additional encouragement to actually use certain features.
For firms that have already invested valuable resources in the development of website functionality, it is critical for them to educate their customers on the available offerings and encourage usage. Failure to do so may impact the ROI (return on investment) they receive from expenditures dedicated to the website. Effective marketing campaigns, website tutorials and personal demonstrations are some methods available to firms looking to increase website awareness and/or usage.
Data from J.D. Power’s U.S. Retail Banking Satisfaction Study finds that younger investors have greater willingness to open investment accounts/products at their primary retail banking institution.
For example, among Affluent Investors, 37% of those in the Generation Y age cohort hold a mutual fund/annuity with their primary retail bank. Conversely, only 9% of Affluent Investors in the Pre-Boomer age cohort hold a mutual fund/annuity with their primary retail bank.
On one hand, this could be good news for ‘banking’ institutions looking to increase their share of investable assets held. On the other hand, traditional ‘investment-only’ institutions may be at risk of losing valuable asset share moving forward.
Full-service investment firms looking to maximize the ROI of proactive outreach to their clients should be aware that the ‘demand’ for proactive outreach varies considerably by demographic segment. In other words, developing proactive outreach programs should not be viewed with a ‘one-size-fits-at-all’ approach.
The graphic below, which is based on data from the 2014 J.D. Power Full-Service Investor Study, looks at investors that are ‘highly satisfied’ with the Account Offerings available at their firm. While highly satisfied ‘Affluent’ investors report an average of 9.9 contacts from their advisor, and 7.2 contacts from their firm, high satisfaction among investors in the ‘Mass Market’ and ‘Mass Affluent’ segments can be maintained with less frequent outreach.
Understanding the differing levels of service that drive investor satisfaction may help firms create communication strategies that meet client needs, while also managing the costs associated with proactive outreach. It is also important to note that investors across different demographic segments have different preferences with regards to the channel used for communication, and the types of information that should be provided to them proactively.
Based on findings from the 2014 J.D. Power Financial Advisor Satisfaction Study, about 87% of Employee advisors and 93% of Independent advisors say they either “definitely will” or “probably will” remain at their current firm for the next 1 to 2 years.
‘Loyal advisors’ are more likely to cite ‘cultural values/benefits’ as a primary reason to remain with their firm, compared to ‘neutral advisors’. Specifically, study data finds that ‘Corporate Leadership’ has a key role to play in improving advisor loyalty through clear and effective communications of the firm’s core values and strategy.
Additional analysis identifies some key differences in brand perception among ‘loyal’ and ‘neutral’ financial advisors – ‘loyal’ advisors are more likely to perceive their firm as ‘customer-focused’, ‘collaborative’ and ‘flexible’.
By definition, self-directed investors tend to have a less ‘personal’ relationship with their investment firm compared to other investors. Because of this, there is less opportunity for firms to personally engage clients and educate them on available products and services, thereby placing greater importance on the onboarding phase of the relationship. Firms that can successfully onboard new clients stand to benefit from improved satisfaction that may ultimately lead to increased loyalty and propensity to invest.
Educating new clients on the tools and resources available to them is a primary goal of the onboarding process. Data from the 2014 J.D. Power and Associates Self-Directed Investor Study finds that increasing awareness (and usage) of available tools can significantly increase investor satisfaction.
Study findings also indicate that encouraging customers to use one set of tools drives increased awareness and usage of additional tools. For example, familiarizing self-directed investors on basic tools, such as investing basics or budgeting tools, drives greater usage of more advanced tools such as asset allocation or financial planning.
Data from the 2014 JD Power Full-Service Investor Satisfaction Study finds a significant increase in the number of investors reporting that their portfolio performance was ‘better-than-expected’ (driven by healthy market performance throughout 2013). Accordingly, overall investor satisfaction also improved significantly, as good financial performance tends to drive investor satisfaction.
However, history tells us that market performance fluctuates and that a ‘downturn’ is likely at some point in the future. In preparation for this, financial institutions and advisors should identify behaviors that can help mitigate dissatisfaction with ‘poor’ portfolio performance. In turn, minimizing dissatisfaction may help prevent investor attrition and/or the transfer of assets to competitors.
Once the behaviors are identified, focus should be placed on implementing new processes and/or training programs to ensure that the institution and its advisors are capable of providing the optimal level of service to their clients.
Key methods of minimizing investor dissatisfaction with ‘poor’ portfolio performance include:
Building a strong ‘advisor-investor’ relationship
Developing a clear financial plan
Discussing and incorporating risk tolerance
Clearly communicating reasons for investment performance
Data from the J.D. Power U.S. Full Service Investor Satisfaction Study clearly shows that good market performance influences satisfaction. However, it’s the development of strong relationships with investors that determines which firms thrive. Firms must ensure that advisor actions align with investor expectations and, thus, strengthen both loyalty and advocacy.
Keys to building strong relationships include:
Ensure financial planning activities clearly define a strategy based on key needs and goals. As the relationship progresses, plans must adapt to changes in both the investor’s life circumstances and the broader financial environment.
Tailor the communications approach to the unique needs of the investor instead of using a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Investors want to believe their advisors understand them and their needs, which begins with interacting via their preferred method.
Build transparency into all interactions. Two key issues for all investors are whether they are making as much as they can and whether they are paying too much. Ensuring there is clarity in both areas will help to build trust.
Data from the 2013 U.S. Retail Banking Satisfaction Study finds that satisfaction and loyalty metrics among Affluent customers are lagging those of Non-Affluent customers. In turn, financial institutions are jeopardizing their ability to deepen the share-of-wallet they hold with their most valuable segment of customers.
Contrary to findings within the retail banking segment, data from the 2013 Full Service Investor Study finds that Affluent investors are significantly more satisfied than Non-Affluent Investors (818 vs. 785, respectively), leading to lower levels of intended attrition. Therefore, financial institutions have an opportunity to identify the drivers of Affluent customer satisfaction from the wealth management experience and translate them into the retail banking experience.
For example, Affluent customers are considerably more satisfied with the Fees and Product Offerings associated with their investment relationship, as opposed to the Fees and Product Offerings associated with their retail banking relationship. Successful communication, often driven by the presence of an account manager, helps raise pricing-related satisfaction within the wealth management industry. Additionally, financial institutions may want to consider revisions to their lineup of retail banking products/services to better align with the specific needs of Affluent customers, which tend to be more complex.