The markets are soaring, but wealthy clients aren't happy.

Investors with $5 million to $25 million in net worth say they are notably less satisfied with their previous advisors than in prior years, according to a new survey from investor research firm Spectrem Group. Just 73% of respondents say they are satisfied overall with their financial advisor, the survey found -- compared with 80% in 2011 and 81% in 2010.

In fact, only three-quarter of those ultra-high net worth investors actually use a financial advisor, notes Spectrem President George Walper, with the remainder thinking they can do a better job themselves. That's a statistic he says holds true across the broader range of investors his firm surveys, starting with those with $100,000 or more in assets -- and it's a problem for advisors.

Key Factors

For the ultra-rich, there are a few issues affecting satisfaction rates, Walper says. Partly it's a question of expectations: Because the wealthiest clients expect steady improvements in performance, simply offering the same services you did last year will likely disappoint.

Moreover, Walper points out, these ultra-high net worth investors are also, on average, the oldest group he surveys, with 63% retired and another 13% semi-retired. "They're the most significantly affected by the economy, and by lower interest rates," he says. "That factors into [the clients'] expectations that advisors will ensure they can continue to live a happy life in retirement."

Beyond that, he says, dissatisfaction tends to correlate not with poor investment performance but with a weak understanding of clients' life needs. "There is an expectation that advisors will understand investing," Walper says. "But investors are saying, 'You need to understand my needs, my family's needs, and where we're going.'"

Slow Response Times, Weak Newsletters

Investors with fewer assets showed slightly lower satisfaction with their advisors, although those ratings were higher than in years past. And when asked about specific products and services, investors dinged advisors for the quality of face-to-face meetings, financial plans and in particular newsletters, which many advisors use, noted Walper, yet which only got "excellent" ratings from 22% to 28% of investors.

Most important for clients, he adds, is advisor responsiveness -- specifically, how quickly calls and emails get returned. That's been true for a decade, he notes -- "but what's changed over the last four years is the time frame. It's not same day or the next day; clients want responses in five hours or less, even in two hours."