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Most Influential Wealth Managers: Research Uncovers Drivers of Engagement, Satisfaction, and Willingness to Refer Wealth Managers

Study Highlights Differences between good advisors with satisfied clients and exceptional advisors with engaged clients

Investments & Wealth Institute (formerly IMCA) released research findings from its latest study, “2019 High-Net-Worth Investor Study,” recently. The research explores how advisors can stand out in a crowded market, where high client satisfaction and loyalty is not enough to set them apart. The study also examines how articulating the value of advanced, credentials  can provide meaningful differentiation among discerning HNW Investors.

The research, fielded by AbsoluteEngagement.com, gathered input from just over 1,000 high-net-worth investors across North America.  The research built upon the findings of previous studies conducted in 2017 and 2018. All respondents worked with a financial advisor and met specific household investable asset criteria (at least $500,000 in investable assets).

According to the survey, 91% of clients are somewhat or very satisfied and 89% of clients are somewhat or extremely likely to continue to work with their advisor. According the research, the vast majority of advisors are providing a high level of satisfaction with their HNW clients. While those findings are good, the research suggests that having satisfied and loyal clients isn’t enough to set the advisor apart from the vast majority of other advisors available to clients. The study highlights several key capabilities that distinguish exceptional advisors from their peers.


Not surprisingly, the foundational requirements of all client respondents are that their advisor is trustworthy (87% percentage rating 5 out of 5 on importance), has high ethical standards (80%), always acts in my best interests (80%), and is knowledgeable (77%). Beyond these foundational capabilities, the research identified four additional drivers that “engaged clients” rate significantly higher than all clients:  In order of relative importance (from lowest to highest) they are: taking a personalized approach, demonstrating advanced capabilities, delivering exceptional service, and providing meaningful guidance.

“Client engagement is the key goal of every successful advisory relationship,” said Julie Littlechild, founder of AbsoluteEngagement.com and author of the research. “However, advisors must first establish a foundation of expertise and ethics, the two most important things to clients beyond the over-arching attribute of trust. The study provides actionable steps advisors can take to communicate their value and measure their success.”


At the highest level, high-net-worth clients turn to advisors to provide a range of services.  When asked to rank four services in order of importance, investment management tops the list (38% of HNW clients rank it as most important), followed by financial planning (29%), wealth management (21%), and retirement solutions (12%). However, while investment management is most important, two-thirds of investors say that investment performance is just one of the things for which they pay their advisor. The top three things HNW investor say they pay their advisors for are: on-going guidance/advice to help reach their goals (90%), help in avoiding costly financial/investment mistakes (84%) and on-going monitoring of their goals (81%). 


With Ethics and expertise being ranked as foundational capabilities, and “strong technical expertise” and “advanced capabilities” being ranked as differentiating factors for exceptional advisors, the value and importance of designations were explored as an are the primary way that advisors demonstrate all of these capabilities. Seventy-three percent of high-net-worth clients say that designations and credentials are an important way to demonstrate technical expertise.  In part this is because clients define expertise as going above and beyond the basic requirements of licensing or registration. Nearly 70 percent of high-net-worth clients saying it is important that their advisor achieve advanced certifications or voluntary education and three quarters of high-net-worth clients say that voluntary designations and certifications would be important to decision making if they were choosing an advisor today.

“High-net-worth clients expect their advisors to have advanced ethics and expertise to drive tangible outcomes,” said Sean Walters, CAE, chief executive officer, Investments & Wealth Institute. “This study illustrates that for high-net-worth clients, advanced capabilities mean knowledge and application of strategies and expertise they could not get from other advisors. Voluntary, advanced designations provide those capabilities.”

Established in 1985, the Investments & Wealth Institute, formerly IMCA, is a professional association, advanced education provider, and standards body for financial advisors, investment consultants, financial planners, and wealth managers who embrace excellence and ethics. To access the study or learn more about the Institute, visit investmentsandwealth.org.

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