A plunge in client risk tolerance sent advisor confidence tumbling for February, as planners shifted assets out of equities and into cash in hopes of locking in last year's gains.

The Retirement Advisor Confidence Index - Financial Planning's monthly barometer of business conditions for wealth managers - fell 4.2 points in February to 52.5. The drop was one of the steepest since Financial Planning began tracking the index.

The biggest single component shift was a 17.3-point drop in client risk tolerance after the 2013 stock surge gave way to a retrenchment in January. (Although the survey asked advisors to focus on January activity, it was fielded during the first week of February, as equity markets were sliding.)

Advisors also reported asset allocation shifts into cash and away from both equities and bonds.

"With the run-up in the market over the last year, people are now more concerned with safety of the money they've accumulated," one planner said. Another observed: "Clients are more hesitant about 2014 and generally see it as a year with less overall returns and more volatility than there was in 2013."

Another factor pulling the index downward was the shift away from year-end planning, with declines in retirement activity fees and retirement plan contributions, and fewer retirement products sold.

The index is composed of 10 factors - including asset allocations, investment product recommendations, economic and risk factors, taxes and planning fees - and is used to track trends in wealth management business cycles.

Index readings of less than 50 indicate declines, while readings of more than 50 indicate expansion.