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Investors Working With Multiple Pros

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A recent Cerulli report on retail investors finds that clients are working with an average of 3.6 financial professionals. That figure jumps to 4.2 and up for those with $500,000 or more in investable assets. Plus, these average figures unexpectedly rose from 2012.

While this isn’t the news that researchers—and advisors—anticipated, the trend can be seen as an opportunity, rather than as simply a threat. “Investors are looking at different ways to diversify not just their investments but also their [financial service] providers and where they hold their assets,” said senior analyst Roger Stamper of Boston-based Cerulli, in an interview.

One market segment that presents a good opportunity for advisors and other providers are investors ages 50 to 59, Stamper notes. In this group, close to 25% of investors are looking, or at least are open, to increasing their level of paid financial advice.

“That’s a sweet spot,” Stamper said. “And when you take into account the amount of rollovers, for instance, there is a significant amount of dollars at play.”

High-net-worth and ultra-high-net-worth investors have an average of four relationships with investment providers. “Wealth provides many investors with the privilege of benefiting from institutional products and prices across asset managers, and it also grants them the ability to leverage their status among providers and advisors,” said Donnie Ethier, associate director at Cerulli, in a statement. “High-net-worth investors continue to steadily diversify their advice providers.”

On the other hand, high-net-worth investors seem “reluctant to terminate existing relationships,” Ethier explains. “In fact, nearly one-quarter of high-net-worth households report their primary provider controls at least 90% of their investable assets.”

Cerulli experts have thought many recent relationships between investors and financial professionals came about from “a short-term desire to validate or compare current providers, or even as a short-term spread of assets to maintain FDIC-insured accounts in the wake of bank failures.”

Instead, investors seem to be seeking “new and perhaps better advice, eschewing their incumbent providers,” the report explains. “This particular market recession uncovered investors’ worst nightmares, which is the fear of losing everything,” it added.

Advisors most likely don’t know exactly how much money and investments are in all of their clients’ accounts, and Cerulli experts think investors will probably “continue to use multiple providers at a time as another strategy for diversification, particularly in the higher end of the market.”

One topic that gives advisors a chance to expand their relationships with clients is that of fee transparency. Cerulli’s latest research finds that more than 60% of investors can’t fully grasp the compensation structures of their providers.

Financial services firms must recognize how significant an issue this is and will continue to be “as more firms transition to fee-based relationships, blurring the lines between transaction business and fee-only business.”

In addition, the research shows that the rate of satisfaction for investors with their providers is “only” 62%. This data “clearly supports the notion that investors, who are not sure what they are paying, grow to become the least satisfied clients,” the Cerulli report states.

Again, this gives advisors a chance to have more positive, forthright conversations with both existing and potential clients about fees and fiduciary issues.


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