Retail investors trust big advisory firms less than they did four years ago and are questioning the value of the advice they receive, according to a report from Cerulli Associates, based on multiple surveys it conducted with 7,000 retail investors from June 2011 to July 2012.
The report, which covers $22.4 trillion in retail owned assets and splits that universe into three groups: advisor intermediated, with $13.9 trillion, direct to investor, with $4.2 trillion and other intermediated channels with $4.3 trillion.
On Wall Street, Financial Planning and Bank Investment Consultant were given a sneak peek at the survey, and this week we'll be bringing you the key findings. Today: a look at which distribution channels are succeeding in serving retail investors.
After the shock of 2008, investors had a generally sunny outlook: they were satisfied with their portfolios and their advisors and the firms that employed them.
But that is no longer the case.
After the markets began their roller coaster ride, investors started to express suspicions that the big wirehouse firms have not had their best interests at heart. The good news is they believe their individual advisors were doing their best in a difficult situation. Still, the result of this dissatisfaction is fewer investors reporting that they have a traditional advisor, or plan to use one in the future.
This lack of trust in the big brand names, along with a variety of other factors such as wirehouses' focus on high-end clients to the exclusion of smaller ones, has boosted the overall trend towards advisors going independent, according to Scott Smith, the author of the report.
"Everyone wants to be independent, and technology has lowered the bar for people to move to independence overall," he said. "We do see that continuing over time," he added.
He noted another factor driving the move towards independence: the willingness of clients to follow their advisor, rather than stick with a brand-name firm. The trend of loyalty settling at the advisor level, rather than the firm level, has become especially marked in recent years since those brands have been tarnished in the raft of scandals.
"They feel, 'If the large firms can't keep their own houses in order, how do I expect them to keep mine in order?'" he said.
However, there is one arena where brand names still help: discount advisors. Smith said that the survey showed investors are increasingly accepting having an online-only relationship with a discount advisor - providing they already knew them. Fidelity and Charles Schwab have an in with investors, because many already know them as the administrators of their 401(k) plans. "We're seeing a growing acceptance of having online relationships with advisors who haven't disappointed them in the past. They think, 'My Fidelity account has done OK, relatively, what am I going to get from somebody else that I'm not getting already from Fidelity?'" he said.
He said the recent trend of tech start-ups using algorithms to create basic asset allocation on the cheap is unlikely to unseat the brand-name discounters. Known as "robo advisors," these young companies will have an uphill battle because of lack of name recognition he said.