LOREN FOX, DIRECTOR, IGNITES RESEARCH: Welcome to the Financial Advisor IQ Service Awards.
These awards recognize the asset managers, retirement plan recordkeepers and other business partners that advisors consider most valuable to their day-to-day business. They’re brought to you by FA-IQ, the daily news source for U.S. financial advisors — a publication of the Financial Times.
The awards are based on the votes of 1,144 financial advisors we surveyed online this summer. Among the voters were FA-IQ readers and members of the FT Top Advisor Lists.
The voters represent multiple channels including broker-dealers, RIAs and insurers. We counted the ballots in each category, and determined the gold, silver and bronze winners.
Let’s start by talking about sales. Even in this digital era, advisors often find value consulting with a few, trusted salespeople.
In past research, advisors told us that the top three activities that the best Sales & Relationship Management teams provide are: quality customer support, access to portfolio managers, and articulating a distinct value proposition.
We split the asset managers into two groups — large companies, or those with $75 billion or more in mutual fund and ETF assets, and those that are small- or midsize-companies. Advisors chose only from shops they said they had worked with.
Here are the winners for Best Sales & Relationship Management Teams among large asset managers: JP Morgan, American Funds, iShares and BlackRock.
Among small and midsize asset managers, advisors chose: Edgewood, Federated, First Trust.
We also asked advisors which asset managers they consider best at managing their Product Lineups.
An asset manager’s credibility can be helped or hurt depending on how well they plan and execute product launches, whether their menu of offerings balances focus with variety, and how thoughtful the manager is in changing or culling products.
For large asset managers, advisors listed the shops with the best product management as: American Funds, Vanguard, iShares/BlackRock.
And for small and midsize managers, the medals go to: First Eagle, Blackstone’s retail funds, First Trust.
The next set of awards relate to content and commentary, which are only becoming more important as the relationship between asset managers and advisors becomes increasingly digital.
We’ve split such communication into five categories. The first is letters from portfolio managers about the products they run, because advisors really like these glimpses of the PM’s philosophy. Among large asset managers, the favorites are: iShares/BlackRock, Pimco, American Funds.
Among small and midsize asset managers, advisors favored: FMI Funds, First Eagle, First Trust.
Another opportunity to build a brand is with commentary from the company’s market strategists or economists. The winners for Best Macro Commentary among large managers are: American Funds, J.P. Morgan, iShares/BlackRock.
The winners among small and midsize asset managers are: FMI Funds, Guggenheim, First Trust.
White Papers and other thought leadership content can further help set firms apart. Among large asset managers, advisors favor: American Funds, iShares/BlackRock, Vanguard.
The winners among small and midsize asset managers are: FMI Funds, Blackstone, First Trust.
It’s not just about the written word, as advisors also like podcasts, videos, and other media. The large managers with the best Audio and Visual Content are: Fidelity, iShares/BlackRock, J.P. Morgan.
Among small and midsize asset managers, the advisors favored: Morgan Stanley, FMI Funds, First Trust.
Lastly, the winners for Best Overall Content & Commentary among large asset managers are: J.P. Morgan, American Funds, iShares/BlackRock.
For small and midsize managers, the overall medals go to: FMI Funds, Blackstone, First Trust.
We’re going to switch to the retirement space, where growing numbers of employees depend on defined contribution plans like 401(k)s. And that means more plan participants need more help.
We surveyed 401 advisors who specialize in DC plans, and they said that the number one need among their clients is general financial education. That surpassed DC investment allocation advice, and recommendations for plan contributions. A lot of this assistance falls to the recordkeepers that help administer DC plans.
Recordkeepers are now expected to offer a variety of tools to plan participants, (such as educational modules and calculators) to keep investors on track for retirement.
Retirement specialist advisors told us that the recordkeepers with the best Participant Tools are: Principal, Fidelity, Empower.
Our next award category is client service. This is critical, especially when plan participants have customized needs or questions.
Plan advisors say the tops in client service are: Fidelity, Principal, Empower.
Plan advisors also look to recordkeepers to charge reasonable prices for running DC plans. The medals for price go to: Fidelity, Ascensus, Empower.
Clear and understandable reporting to participants outlining balances and investment performance can also help recordkeepers distinguish their brands
The winners for best reporting are: Principal, Fidelity, Empower.
And more than ever, recordkeepers have to guard DC plans against cyberattacks and keep employee data safe and private.
For cybersecurity and privacy, advisors voted for: Principal, Empower, Fidelity.
Asked about the recordkeepers they rate highest overall, advisors chose: Principal, Fidelity, Empower.
And finally, we asked the DC plan advisors which law firms they thought were best at providing guidance and support with Erisa law. The results show that advisors put a lot of value on high-profile thought leaders.
According to advisors, the best Erisa law firms are: Groom Law Group, Wagner Law Group, Faegre Drinker.
This concludes the 2020 FA-IQ Service Awards. Congratulations to all our medal winners!