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Today’s wealthy clients want their advisors to deeply understand and holistically manage their financial lives, but more than anything, they want to be able to trust their advisors, according to research released Tuesday by SEI.

“High-net-worth clients expect exceptional client experiences in all facets of their lives,” John Anderson, head of practice management solutions at Independent Advisor Solutions by SEI, said in a statement.

Luxury hospitality and retail brands often deliver a superior, personal experience that helps set the service standard in their respective industries, Anderson said.

“While technology and investment performance contribute to overall client satisfaction, our research shows that fostering trust and personalizing the investor experience can help advisors consistently meet, or exceed, clients’ expectations. The advisory industry lacks an existing standard, and we have an opportunity to create one.”

SEI conducted an online advisor survey in July, generating 375 responses, and partnered with Phoenix Marketing International to poll 957 affluent U.S. households. For the white paper, SEI focused exclusively on the responses from 347 households with $1 million to $4,999,999 in investable assets. It also qualified “true” high-net-worth advisors as those with client bases 70% of which had $1 million or more in investable assets.

SEI’s survey found that 85% of wealthy investors were either very satisfied or satisfied with their primary financial advisor relationship. Their top three reasons for their levels of satisfaction were the overall relationship, trustworthiness and honesty, and investment performance.

However, only 26% of high-net-worth respondents said they were getting enough information from their advisor to accept their recommendation, and just 44% said they trusted their advisors enough to take their guidance at face value.

Meanwhile, 91% of advisors in the survey said that wealthy clients would rank trustworthiness and dependability as important characteristics.

SEI noted that these findings showed that trust, rooted in tailored, highly personalized service, could be the currency of success for advisors serving the high-net-worth market segment.

“Our research reinforces that simple ‘satisfaction’ may not be good enough when serving this market segment,” Anderson said. “Advisors should consider workflows, client journey maps and investor personas to solidify the client experience.”

He said clients engage at various points in the financial planning process, and advisors should make each engagement meaningful. “Trust evolves over time, and it’s vital to demonstrate trustworthiness in every interaction.”

According to the report, 63% of high-net-worth respondents said they found high value or very high value in an advisor who personalizes advice.

However, absent standardized guidance, advisors can be uncertain how to formulate that personalization. SEI proposed its “platinum rule of advisor service” as the industry standard, an approach that is characterized by the following elements:

  • Personal: Customized and thoughtful communications and advice
  • Highly responsive: Immediate recognition of calls or inquiries
  • Empathetic: Deep understanding of a client’s feelings and concerns
  • Error free: Zero tolerance for errors of any kind
  • Consistent: Every client interaction met by the highest standard of excellence
  • Complete: Nonnegotiable follow-up and follow-through
  • “Wow-able”: Going above and beyond what is expected

SEI’s report suggests that advisors need to ask clients up front what they expect. The best advisors continually look for ways to reduce sources of frustration and capitalize on opportunities to improve the client experience.

It says that in order to be innovative and offer the broadest solution suite possible, advisors should consider outsourcing non-core activities so they can spend more time on personalization and building trust.

The report features four advisors who cater to wealthy investors. They recommend that advisors hone their niches and segment their clients — the narrower, the better. A segmentation-by-service offering enables more personal interaction and better anticipation of clients’ needs.

The advisors also recommend that advisors carefully craft their value proposition: Be distinctive, targeted, measurable, defendable and sustainable in one or two sentences.

Finally, they say advisors should assess and fine-tune the service model. Model the service process like the investment process and practice discipline.

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