Adviser Loyalty Falls in J.D. Power Survey

The J.D. Power 2015 U.S. Financial Advisor Satisfaction Study notes a drop in loyalty among financial advisers toward their investment firm employers and partners.

A new J.D. Power survey looks across investment shops, brokerages and independent advisories, finding “an undercurrent of dissatisfaction” driven by changes in adviser compensation structures and a lack of confidence in firm leadership and wider industry developments.

The study measures satisfaction in multiple advisory channels—throughout identifying a drop in adviser confidence and loyalty, due, not surprisingly, to current industry events and client service trends. Overall satisfaction among “employee advisers,” those employed and working closely with a wider investment firm or brokerage, came in at 701, for a 20-point decline in satisfaction from 2014. While the strong majority of advisers aren’t planning an imminent career move, this represents a 6% drop in satisfaction in the last year, with satisfaction measured on a 1,000-point scale.

“With respect to loyalty, 83% of employee advisers say they ‘probably will’ or ‘definitely will’ stay at their current firm for the next one to two years,” the study notes.

Some good news for investment shops and brokerages relying on advisers to distribute their products and maintain client connections: many advisers explained their dissatisfaction as being unrelated to long-term firm loyalty. Many advisers are simply fed up by headwinds including unfavorable regulatory pressure via Department of Labor and the Securities and Exchange Commission, along with industry-wide fee compression, and a more volatile and unforgiving investment environment.

Among advisers intending to stay put, J.D. Power finds 38% will do so either because of contract requirements, to maintain current compensation, or simply because “they have no reason to move.” This compares with 43% who cite primary reasons for staying associated with “enduring loyalty, such as trust in firm leadership, culture, client focus or independence.”

In the independent segment, overall satisfaction is somewhat higher, at 773. Additionally, J.D. Power finds 89% of independent advisers say they “probably will” or “definitely will” stay with their current firm.

NEXT: What drives satisfaction?

Beyond regulatory and investment market pressures, J.D. Power finds the key driver of declining adviser satisfaction and loyalty is a lack of optimism around compensation.

“Satisfaction with compensation has decreased among employee advisers, with 50% indicating negative changes to their payout during the past year, up from 41% in 2014,” the study finds. “Just 9% of [employee] advisers indicate that their compensation plans have improved.”

As expected, advisers with higher assets under management—especially above $150 million—are those that firms are most concerned about retaining, yet this group is also most likely to be negatively impacted by current pricing, client service and regulatory trends. Put another way: “Many advisers believe their compensation plans are more aligned with corporate goals (86%) than with rewarding appropriate behaviors (64%) … reflecting the perception among some advisers that there is pressure to sell products and services that may not be optimal for their clients.”

Reflecting equal pressures weighing on the independent side of the advisory business, J.D. Power finds 72% of independent advisers have not received a compensation increase over 2014. Just 11% of independents indicated compensation improved. More than eight in 10 (81%) independent advisers feel their compensation structure rewards appropriate behaviors over serving the firm’s growth objectives, which aligns with one attribute that attracts many to the independent model. (See the PLANADVISER Practice Benchmarking Survey for a breakdown of compensation structures common in the industry today.)

NEXT: The role of firm leadership

Firm leadership also plays a critical role in cultivating adviser satisfaction and loyalty, J.D. Power warns. The study does not mince words in assessing the current performance of advisory executives.

“Adviser perceptions of leadership—both at the executive and local or branch levels—leave much to be desired,” the study observes. “Nearly half (42%) of employee advisers indicate firm leadership fails to create a strong culture of accountability, and 50% indicate their immediate supervisor fails to keep promises/commitments. Many advisers also indicate that effective top-down communication is lacking, with just 43% saying that leadership clearly communicates strategic goals … In the independent segment, 49% of advisers indicate firm leadership creates a strong culture of accountability, and 45% indicate corporate leadership clearly communicates strategic goals.”

J.D. Power urges executives and advisers to prioritize good communications and problem solving. These are commonly thought of as client service priorities, the research finds, but they are equally important looking internally.   

“Executives need to ensure that the lines of communication are open between leadership and advisers—from the executive suite to the day-to-day face of leadership at the firm’s branch—which can contribute to a culture that advisers desire and help them to effectively manage and grow their practice better than they could elsewhere or out on their own,” the study concludes.

Additional findings are presented here.