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Charles Schwab, Fidelity Investments and Edward Jones clients ranked the firms highest for the second straight year in J.D. Power’s annual investor satisfaction survey.

Fidelity stayed in second place after sharing that space in a tie with Edward Jones last year, and Schwab kept its place atop the list, which J.D. Power released last week. The industry-wide average jumped 15 points on J.D. Power’s 1,000-point scale to 819.

“It’s the highest score that we’ve seen,” says J.D. Power wealth management practice director Mike Foy.

The 14-year record came amid new highs seen across equity markets. J.D. Power emails the survey to its 6,500 advisory clients each January, and the clients gave their responses at a time when the Dow was climbing toward its milestone of 20,000.

Indeed, the investment performance measurement drew the highest increase among the seven key factors of the survey, at 35 points.

Yet advisory service makes up the most important piece of the weighted index, and the ratings for the top three firms show that they “recognize the need to be successful across the board,” Foy says.

“Schwab, Fidelity and Edward Jones are in many ways different,” he says. “There’s not just a single model that works.”

LPL Financial, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo displayed “meaningful progress” in investor satisfaction, according to the study. At 44 points, Stifel achieved the highest year-over-year improvement of any of the 20 firms.

“Stifel has gone through a number of acquisitions and sales as well in the past few years,” Foy says of the firm’s high marks. “Some of it likely has to do with some of the changes related to those acquisitions.”

All but one of the companies covered in the survey, AXA Advisors, received higher marks than in the 2016 survey. AXA dipped by a modest five points, and both Merrill Lynch and Ameriprise saw increases in customer satisfaction while falling below the industry average.

“We didn’t see anything negative there, they were just overtaken by the other firms,” Foy says, noting positive reviews this year for retail bank brokerages such as U.S. Bank, PNC, Chase and Citigroup.

The retail banks “began to pay more attention to wealth management in recent years” amid low interest rates, according to Foy. “We are beginning to see the benefits of an improved wealth management performance at those firms.”

While the annual report covers many trends, the company rankings remain the most closely-watched aspect of the survey among J.D. Power’s many advisory industry clients, he notes.

“We’re never going to get away from, nor do we want to get away from, the fact that we’re ranking firms based on what their customers say about their experience,” Foy says. “Everything that we do is really based on what the customers say.”


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