New Study on Advisor Satisfaction Invokes Chickens, Eggs

In the case of broker and customer satisfaction, which comes first, the chicken or the egg?

Do satisfied customers lead to satisfied brokers? Or are customers satisfied when their brokers are?

It's a question I asked Craig Martin, director of investment services at J.D. Power and Associates and the lead on the new 2013 U.S. Financial Advisor Satisfaction study. The study measures satisfaction among advisors who are employed directly with an investment services firm, as well as those who are affiliated with, but independently operated from, a broker-dealer. Among the findings: Overall satisfaction among advisors is up since 2010; advisors want their firms to focus more on customers than on profits, and nearly a third of all advisors are ambivalent about their firm, which could ultimately cause them to change firms.

The top firms in the employee segment were Edward Jones, Raymond James and Associates, UBS (NYSE: UBS  ) Financial Services, Merrill Lynch Financial Management , Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC  ) , and Chase. In the independent-advisor segment, the highest-ranked firms were Commonwealth Financial Network, Cambridge Investment Research, Raymond James Financial Services, Northwestern Mutual, and LPL Financial. J.D. Power looked at factors including compensation, contact, people, job duties, work environment, products and offerings to clients, technology, and services and support offered to financial advisors.

The results of the 2013 Customer Satisfaction Survey will be released in May, but if last year's dual studies are any indication, the results of the two will dovetail very closely. That's what I found in covering last year's studies, and Martin says it's likely to be similar this year. And, he says, that's to be expected year after year. "People are generally happier when they're successful," he told me, "and for an advisor to be successful, he or she has to be able to serve their clients. The question is, how do you create a level of engagement you want with a customer, one that not just satisfies them, but truly makes them an advocate of your firm, one who tells their friends and is loyal?"

That, Martin says, only comes when advisors are supported by their firm. With 40% of advisors saying they experienced a technological or paperwork issue in the past year, how those issues are handled makes a difference in advisor satisfaction, and ultimately, customer satisfaction. "The higher-services firms prevent the challenges that prevent advisors from being in front of the client," Martin says. "Those at the top eliminate issues and limit the impact to the advisor on a daily basis."

But what does all this happiness mean for investors? Ultimately, very little. Martin says that although J.D. Power hasn't done any studies on the impacts of their reports on share prices, he suspects there aren't any dramatic changes. "This [report] isn't a surprise. It's a validation," he says. "If you're losing customers and losing advisors, that's going to have a bottom-line impact, and will show up long before our review."

So, which comes first? A happy customer or a happy advisor? Martin has the formula: "The advisor must like their firm. The customer must like the advisor. The customer then is an advocate for the firm."

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