While some firms buck the trend, overall advisor satisfaction with their broker-dealers continues to decline, according to the latest J.D. Power study of wealth managers, released Thursday.

Most important, the study finds, the drop is sharpest among the highest producers.

“Among investors, the most affluent and profitable clients tend to be the most satisfied because they get more attention and value from their firm,” said Mike Foy, director of the wealth management practice at J.D. Power, in a statement. “With advisors, we see the exact opposite.”

The study tracks satisfaction tied to compensation, firm leadership, professional development, operations, client support, technology and problem resolution. 

Among advisors with more than $1 million in annual fees and commissions (or production), overall satisfaction is 683, down 27 points from 2016. In contrast, for advisors with less than $250,000 in production, overall satisfaction is 799, up 35 points from 764 in 2016.

(Related: Best Full-Service Investment Firms Ranked by Investors: J.D. Power — 2017)

“A confluence of factors, including continuing changes to compensation, uncertainty over the Department of Labor fiduciary rule, emerging technologies like robo-advisors and waning faith in firm leadership are all contributing to the trend,” the report explained.

Foy points out that four in 10 advisors do not have a complete understanding of how the rule affects their practice, while one in five has indicated that their broker-dealers have not given them specific information on what the rule means in terms of account changes for their clients.

Read on to see how different firms are doing in terms of advisor satisfaction and how likely employee and independent advisors are to depart over the next year or two. 

Overall satisfaction averages 719 among employee advisors, down 3 points from 722 in 2016.

As for which firms stand out as “above average,” Edward Jones tops the list at 925, followed by Raymond James & Associates, Ameriprise and UBS.

“This is a tremendous vote of confidence during a period of intense industry change, and it validates the direction of our firm leadership, the essential role of our branch office administrators, and our compensation that fairly rewards individuals for their contributions to doing what’s in the best interest of our clients,” said Managing Partner Jim Weddle of Edward Jones in a statement.

Edward Jones adds that the J.D. Power study finds 90% of its reps say they are likely to be working at the firm over the next year or two vs. the industry average of 51%.

Independent advisors’ satisfaction stands at 752, down 3 points from 755 a year ago. The level of satisfaction in this advisor channel is 33 points, or 5%, higher than that of employee advisors.

Although J.D. Power does not publicize the independent channel results, Commonwealth, Raymond James and Cambridge have “done very well” in the polls in recent years, said Commonwealth Financial CEO Wayne Bloom, in an interview. “This is because we are advisor centric and walk the walk.” 

Other key findings from the report are:

  • DOL Fiduciary Rule spurs confusion: Among employee advisors, 41% indicate they don’t completely understand the fiduciary rule, but 64% say they expect to lose smaller clients as a result, and 58% say they expect it to negatively affect the profitability of their practices.
  • Additionally, 44% say the rule will make it more difficult to attract new clients and 36% say it will be harder to retain existing clients.
  • Elevated high touch support: Top-producing advisors have both greater needs and higher expectations in terms of technology and operational support than lower producers.
  • Top producers averaged 22 compliance contacts over the past year, compared with just 11 for lower producers, and also faced longer average resolution times.
  • Among advisors who indicate they spent more than 5% of time on compliance, overall satisfaction scores are 148 points lower than among those who spent less time resolving compliance issues.

— Related on ThinkAdvisor: