High-net-worth clients are turning increasingly to independent advisers and online platforms to manage their finances, and their bonds to financial institutions are weakening as a result, a report from Spectrem Group says.

“The issue is who wins the customer relationship,” said Laurie Cochran, co-author of the report and a director at Spectrem, a Chicago consulting firm specializing in high-income and retirement markets. The firm titled its report “Is Client Loyalty Dead? Meeting the Needs of Affluent Investors in the Age of Aggregation” and defines as high-net-worth individuals or families with income of $100,000 or net worth of $500,000, not including the primary residence.

“The relationship is the place the customer goes to most, where interacting and transacting is taking place the most,” Ms. Cochran said. “Even though a customer may be using your product, if they are using independent advisers and a separate platform, that’s where the relationship has shifted.”

Until recently, investors who wanted variety in financial-product shopping had little choice but to go with organizations that offered several lines under one roof. Then, the Spectrem report says, they were stuck with multiple account statements and contacts.

But the Internet has removed such nuisances, the report points out. More and more, the affluent are viewing information, making transactions, and managing their wealth on a single platform.

Online account aggregation and other technology are also helping independent advisers do more business with the rich.

“Today, over one-third of affluent investors consider an independent adviser, such as a registered investment adviser or certified financial planner, to be their primary financial adviser, equaling the number of affluent who use a full-service broker in this capacity,” Ms. Cochran said.

“Upward of 70% of the affluent like to be consolidated on one place,” she said. “But at the same time those same individuals don’t want all their products from one place.”

Independent advisers are also more apt than financial institutions to consider a wide array of products and services from multiple providers — enabling them to maintain objectivity and select the best-in-class product or service for the client, she said.

Banks have lost a share of business to advisers, Ms. Cochran said, because banks “don’t look holistically at the client” and are often more concerned about pitching their own products than doing what is best for their clients.

Independent advisers also say bank advisers face obstacles to objectivity.

“The profit margin on product is so high that even if the adviser has the best interest of the client in mind, they still know in the back of their mind that in order for them to be successful, the bank has to have more investment in their product,” said Frank Tirelli, the chief operating officer myCFO Inc., a Silicon Valley firm that provides account aggregation and personalized financial advice to very wealthy clients.

“It is very difficult to sway someone to buy a product from a competitor,” Mr. Tirelli said. “That’s just human nature.”

Bankers dispute that view. “Every client is looking for combination of good information and sound advice,” and banks can be very good at providing this, said Dan Prickett, the group head of private capital management at First Union Corp. in Charlotte, N.C. “Clients who are successful — let’s face it — have made many decisions in their lives, and they know when they’re being sold and they know when they are being advised. You start selling to these people, and they aren’t going to stay around.”

“Most clients don’t expect one institution to be able to offer also the products and services they are going to need,” Mr. Prickett said. “It’s my job as a big financial institution to give you good advice and get the information and get you good solutions, to find you the best of the best.” But he acknowledged that the Internet and independent advisers have frayed the once close-knit relationship between customers and product providers.

As more information becomes available to them, the wealthy are becoming more independent and seek more control over their money, said the Spectrem report, which was released for the firm’s clients in April and to the public on Monday. For example, 83% of those surveyed last year said they want the “final say” in investing, up from 67% in 1990. Likewise, 62% of those surveyed last year said they would consider investing without consulting a professional, up from 49% a decade earlier.

An earlier study by Booz, Allen & Hamilton found that a third of those who aggregate their financial data do so on Web sites that are not connected to a financial institution. Even more disturbing for the traditional players that once had a mono- poly on those relationships, 45% of individuals currently using aggregators reported having either stopped or reduced their visits to sites associated with financial institutions.

And some customers are circumventing product pitches by using financial sites that do not offer products at all, the Booz Allen report said. Of the top Web sites used in managing retirement plan investments, four of the top 11 — Yahoo, Morningstar.com, CNN, and Fool.com — are not financial services providers.


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