Commonwealth Has The Happiest Advisors . . . But COVID Really Hurt Wirehouse Morale

Despite the massive industry-wide disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, booming financial markets and significant gains in production have boosted overall financial advisor satisfaction this year. But not all advisors are feeling the warm glow of support from their firm. According to the J.D. Power 2021 U.S. Financial Advisor Satisfaction Study,SM released today, advisors working for wirehouse firms1 generally indicate having significantly lower levels of support from their firm, greater disruption of business services and more difficulty transitioning to remote work than do those advisors working for non-wirehouse and independent advisory firms.

“This year has been especially challenging, and this study identifies some firms that clearly did a better job than others in meeting those challenges.”

“Advisor satisfaction is directly linked to retention and brand advocacy, so firms that want to get the most out of their advisors need to invest in providing them with the best tools and support to do their jobs effectively under all circumstances,” said Mike Foy, senior director of wealth and lending intelligence at J.D. Power. “This year has been especially challenging, and this study identifies some firms that clearly did a better job than others in meeting those challenges.”

Following are some key findings of the 2021 study:

  • Wirehouses fall short of advisor expectations: Despite payout rates and branding campaigns that suggest higher levels of support for advisors, wirehouse firms have fallen short of advisor expectations during the pandemic, with 34% of wirehouse advisors reporting reduced levels of support from the home office and 29% citing disruption of business services. In both cases, wirehouse advisors have experienced negative effects from the pandemic at approximately double the rate of non-wirehouse and independent advisors. Wirehouse advisors also cite higher levels of difficulty transitioning to remote work. Morgan Stanley is an exception as the only wirehouse that significantly improves from 2020.
  • Dissatisfied advisors more than three times as likely to switch firms: Tracking firm-level advisor satisfaction scores from 2018 through 2021, J.D. Power finds that 18% of advisors working for firms with the lowest overall advisor satisfaction scores ended up switching firms during that period. That compares with a switch rate of just 5% among the firms with the highest overall advisor satisfaction scores. The average annual production of defecting advisors is nearly $800,000 per year, and 63% of investors indicate they would likely leave their firm to follow their advisor if he/she left the firm.2
  • Advisor satisfaction strongly linked to Net Promoter Score® (NPS)3Across all advisor segments, satisfaction is strongly linked to advocacy as well as retention. Among the nearly one-third (32%) of advisors whose satisfaction is above 900 (on a 1,000-point scale), nearly all will promote their firm (NPS=97). Just 2% say they plan to leave their firm.
  • Technology and operations support are common pain points for dissatisfied advisors: Among advisors who provide the lowest NPS scores, the most significant pain points are technology and operations support. Just 35% of these dissatisfied advisors say their firm’s technology offerings have improved in the past year and just 12% have had problem-free experiences with their firm during the past year.

Study Rankings

Among employee advisors, Edward Jones ranks highest in overall satisfaction with a score of 890. Raymond James & Associates (864) ranks second and Stifel (857) ranks third.

Among independent advisors, Commonwealth ranks highest in overall satisfaction with a score of 936. Raymond James Financial Services (853) ranks second and Cambridge (842) ranks third.

The U.S. Financial Advisor Satisfaction Study measures satisfaction among both employee advisors (those who are employed by an investment services firm) and independent advisors (those who are affiliated with a broker-dealer but operate independently) based on six key factors (in alphabetical order): compensation; leadership and culture; operational support; products and marketing; professional development; and technology.

The study is based on responses from 3,029 employee and independent financial advisors and was fielded from January through April 2021.


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