Business woman showing stock market financial situation

If your value proposition includes a focus on customer experience, you have a good chance of standing out from your peers if you deliver, according to research from Cerulli Associates.

The Boston-based research and consulting firm found that less than one-third of U.S. advisors (30%) strongly agreed that their practices go above and beyond to make clients feel special, and that their practices offer repeatable, consistent client experience.

That’s a problem, because firms that fail on client experience will fall behind. In a release, Marina Shtyrkov, a research analyst at Cerulli, said firms that focus on client experience exhibit stronger results than their peers across a variety of metrics, including a higher median client size, lower asset attrition, a broader service set and a greater likelihood to target affluent clients.

“By outpacing their peers in these categories, experience-centric practices demonstrate that advisors can harness the power of their client experience to increase retention, reduce attrition and generate a strong referral system,” Shtyrkov said.

A focus on client experience has emerged as the industry has faced increased tech-aided competition and growing fee transparency. Though clients might be taking a harder look at what advisors offer for their fees, they are still willing to pay when they perceive value. In fact, Cerulli research finds clients are more willing to pay for advice than they were a decade ago.

As of mid-2018, 53% of U.S. investors agreed they’re willing to pay for advice for their financial investments—up from 38% in 2009, Cerulli said in the release. Further, 76% of investors agreed or strongly agreed that the value they receive from advisors is worth the expense.

However, Shtyrkov made clear that value is key: if the cost-benefit of engaging with an advisor isn’t clear, clients are more likely to opt for other providers, she said in the release.

Firms aim to do their part, with a 2018 report from Econsultancy and Adobe finding that many global financial services firms plan to improve customer experience through personalization. When asked what their top digital-related priorities were in 2018, 37% of firms said “targeting and personalization,” compared to 23% of respondents from other sectors. (Legacy financial institutions will be most challenged to offer personalization relative to digital-first organizations, the report noted.)

Still, the effect individual advisors can have on client experience can’t be ignored.

Based on Cerulli’s research, satisfied investors have advisors who’ve met their most pressing needs. Specifically, these advisors are transparent, understand clients’ goals and provide prompt request followups.

Said Shtyrkov: “An advisor’s integrity and the overall relationship outweigh expertise or investment performance.”