Because of the 1990s’ market boom and other developments, affluent investors’ financial affairs have become much more complex. Many of these people are turning to the Internet to simplify their finances, and this is having a big impact on loyalty.

These people are shifting away from traditional providers and their products to independent advisers and online platforms. This means trouble for financial services companies, because their shareholders demand short-term returns and management as a result tends to focus on short-term customer satisfaction. These companies have to pay more attention to traditional loyalty factors — trust, personalization, performance, responsiveness, and accessibility — and use the Internet to solidify relationships with customers they already have and bring in new ones.

More than two-thirds of affluent households and nearly three-quarters of high-net-worth households claim to use one or more advisers, and they tend to be loyal to them — the adviser relationship last more than six years on average. As the Internet, open architecture platforms, and the deluge of information continue to bombard affluent investors, this loyalty is expected to deepen; it’s projected that about 75% of affluent households will look to advisers for assistance in managing at least a portion of their assets.

The rate of Internet access among affluent households far surpasses that of the general population and is especially high among affluent young people and baby boomers. As they get more accustomed to the Web, they will become less satisfied with the traditional ways of doing business and expect better access to products and services. The emergence of “open architecture” platforms and financial account aggregation will revolutionize the way individuals invest.

We believe people are comfortable receiving all of their financial information from one source but that they don’t want all of their investments to be in the products of just one provider. This will lead to increased use of aggregation services, as well as loyalty to Web sites that let investors obtain information easily. Again, these people’s need to simplify is what makes open-architecture platforms and account aggregation so appealing.

Meeting Internet users’ basic expectations will be a priority in maintaining customer loyalty. Though many affluent investors stress the importance of availability and accessibility of aggregated account information, they are not getting it. More than 70% of affluent households cite information and account aggregation as important, but a good majority say their primary provider of online services needs some or considerable improvement in those areas.

Aggregation and similar services will become more commonplace, and more affluent individuals will use them. The platform is the proxy for the Web site and in many cases is becoming synonymous with the site. Similarly, once someone finds a platform that works, he or she tends to stick with it.

Platforms that are not currently aligned with financial services also pose a threat to traditional providers. Web sites such as Yahoo and are quite appealing to the younger affluent market as a source for financial information and products. When we asked young people with home Internet access whom they would trust to hold their money, many said they would trust nontraditional providers.

The implications of this loyalty shift for traditional financial services providers are daunting. Dual loyalties, both to the adviser and platform, mean that providers must not only have supermarket capabilities, but they must also have a link to the more fragmented adviser market. If a provider cannot build loyalty through a platform or an adviser network, it must rely solely on brand. Programs that bring together aggregation services for the adviser and consumer, as well as multiple product and provider offerings, will become essential.

Ms. McBreen is managing director at Spectrem Group, a Chicago consulting firm specializing in the affluent and retirement markets.

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