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TheStreet Open House

Financial Advisors Struggle to Earn Client Loyalty

By Hal M. Bundrick

NEW YORK (MainStreet) For the first year, your financial advisor is on top of his game. With regular meetings, and frequent phone calls, you feel well taken care of. But as time passes, the meetings become once-a-year at best, and the phone calls come only when some account action is required. You hear more from the assistant then from the advisor.

It's a common pattern of financial advisor service and likely leads to increasing client attrition. PriceMetrix, a practice management software provider, examined its database of 7 million investors and nearly 40,000 financial advisors, and found that the risk of having a client leaving is the highest during years two through four of an advisor and client working together.

The relationship between client and advisor begins with a "honeymoon" period during the first year when client retention is 95%. Over the next couple of years loyalty slides, with the probability of retention dropping to just 74% before leveling off after year four.

"In striving to retain clients, advisors should keep these different stages of each client relationship in mind and redouble their efforts to demonstrate their value to clients during the critical second through fourth years of their relationships," says Doug Trott, president and CEO of PriceMetrix.

The most successful advisors (in the top 10% for client retention) retain over 98% of their clients in any given year, while the least successful retain only 84% of their clients. PriceMetrix says advisors with the greatest account churn must replace clients at 8 times the rate of the most successful advisors, just to stay even.

Advisors with less-affluent clients struggle the most with turnover. According to the study, client households with $100,000 in assets have a retention probability of 87% -- compared to a household with $500,000 in assets or more having a retention probability of 94%. However, client loyalty does not grow significantly beyond this level of affluence. Households with $1 million in assets have a retention probability of 95%.

Fees play a significant role in client retention, with loyalty impacted on both ends of the pricing scale. Advisors who price relatively high -- or even relatively low -- are less likely to keep their clients. The "sweet spot" for asset-under-management fees seems to be between 1% and 1.5%.

"These results suggest that advisors who price their services relatively low may be undercutting the perception of their value among their clients," says Trott, "while those who price relatively high may be creating insurmountable client service expectations."

And older clients are more likely to stay with their advisors than younger ones, according to the research. A 30-year-old client has a retention probability of 82%, a 40-year-old client has an 87% probability and a 50-year-old client has a 90% retention probability.

"These findings should give pause to those advisors who might expect or hope that pursuing younger clients will produce long term client relationships," says Trott. "While younger clients may have longer time horizons with respect to their financial plans, the data do not support the claim that they intend to spend many years with one advisor."

Written by Hal M. Bundrick for MainStreet

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