There has been a dramatic shift in loyalty among affluent investors toward investment firms, according to a survey of 4,000 people by Cogent Research.


Nearly half of the top 23 distributors have gained market share among affluent investors in the past two years, while firms below have experienced anything from minor to substantial erosion.


USAA, Scottrade and Vanguard are the three highest-rated firms, the survey found.


“Holding on to your clients, while always important, becomes mission critical in a declining market where the chances of attracting new clients to replace those dollars is becoming increasingly difficult,” said Antonio Ferreira, managing director of the wealth management group at Cogent.


USAA was No. 1 also in 2007, but Scottrade moved up from No. 17 a year ago, pushing Vanguard, which was No. 2, into the third slot.


Three companies that have made the strongest gains, in terms of double-digit movement on the loyalty scale, are TIAA-CREF, ING, and Raymond James, upping their rankings from No. 6, No. 20 and No. 21, respectively, to No. 4, No. 6 and No. 12. Firms that have suffered the greatest losses in loyalty include Bank of America Securities, Merrill Lynch and Wachovia.


“While performance continues to be the primary driver of loyalty, and certainly can’t be dismissed,” said Christy White, founder and principal of Cogent, “This year, we see that the big differentiator lies in investor perceptions of a firm’s financial stability.”

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