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Nine in 10 high-net-worth respondents in a survey commissioned by Investments & Wealth Institute said they were somewhat to very satisfied with and likely to continue to work with their advisor.

But the research also showed that client satisfaction and loyalty will not suffice to set the advisor apart in a highly competitive market. What qualities must advisors bring to the client engagement to distinguish themselves?

Start with foundational requirements. Eighty-seven percent of respondents said their advisor must be trustworthy, 80% said they must have high ethical standards and always acts in their best interests, and 70% said they must be knowledgeable.

Beyond these things, the research identified these additional drivers that what the study called “engaged clients” rate significantly higher than all clients:

  • Taking a personalized approach
  • Demonstrating advanced capabilities
  • Delivering exceptional service
  • Providing meaningful guidance

“Client engagement is the key goal of every successful advisory relationship,” said Julie Littlechild, founder of AbsoluteEngagement.com and the study’s author, said in a statement. “However, advisors must first establish a foundation of expertise and ethics, the two most important things to clients beyond the over-arching attribute of trust.”

For the study, AbsoluteEngagement.com gathered input from 578 U.S. investors and 425 Canadians, all of whom worked with a financial advisor and had household investable assets of at $500,000.

Wealthy clients turn to advisors to provide a range of services, according to the survey. Asked to rank four services in order of importance, 38% cited investment management, 29% financial planning, 21% wealth management and 12% retirement solutions.

However, two-thirds of respondents said investment performance was just one of the things they wanted from their advisor. Ninety percent said they paid their advisors for ongoing guidance/advice to help reach their goals, 84% for help in avoiding costly financial/investment errors and 81% for ongoing monitoring of their goals.

The study explored the value and importance of designations as the primary way that advisors could demonstrate that they had ethics and expertise as well as “strong technical expertise” and “advanced capabilities.”

Seventy-three percent of high-net-worth respondents said designations and credentials were an important way to demonstrate technical expertise. The study noted that this was in part because clients define expertise as going above and beyond the basic requirements of licensing or registration.

Seven in 10 high-net-worth clients said it was important that their advisor achieve advanced certifications or voluntary education, and three quarters said voluntary designations and certifications would be important to decision making if they were choosing an advisor today.

“High-net-worth clients expect their advisors to have advanced ethics and expertise to drive tangible outcomes,” Sean Walters, chief executive of Investments & Wealth Institute, said in the statement. “This study illustrates that for high-net-worth clients, advanced capabilities mean knowledge and application of strategies and expertise they could not get from other advisors. Voluntary, advanced designations provide those capabilities.”

Communicating Ethics and Expertise

Despite the importance they place on adhering to high ethical standards, 46% of clients in the survey said they did not fully understand the specific ethical standards to which their advisor adhered, creating a communications opportunity for advisors.

According to the study, certain messages are more important than others when communicating with clients and prospects about designations. Investors were asked to rate the importance of several different statements that reflected the process of obtaining designations.

Eighty-nine percent said their advisor would lose his or her credentials by failing to meet ethics standards. The same percentage of respondents said their advisor must meet ongoing standards in order to maintain his or her credentials, for example, annual continuing education and adherence to ethical standards.

Eighty-seven percent said their advisor must meet a rigorous set of standards to be certified, e.g., ethics, experience, education and examinations.