This year will likely be remembered by both financial advisors and investors as "The Year of Volatility" or "The Year of Uncertainty." And that uncertainty had a direct impact upon investors' expectations, according to a SEI Quick Poll Study released Thursday.

Advisors polled said that market volatility caused many clients to re-evaluate just how risk tolerant they really were. It also impacted investor sentiment and investing actions. More than half of advisors (53 percent) said their clients' mindset could best be described as "apprehensive," and that managing volatility was the most popular investment strategy in 2011.

"Everyone knows the market volatility unnerved investors in 2011," said Steve Onofrio, managing director at SEI Advisor Network. "But, in reality, it also rattled financial advisors as well. While some were distracted by the market volatility, the best advisors continued to focus on what investors want and need--personal communication.''

Conducted by the SEI Advisor Network, the poll surveyed 200 financial advisors in December. Nearly two-thirds of the respondents (65 percent) have spent at least 15 years as an advisor.

When asked which topic dominated client conversations the most (from a list that included another big market correction, retirement issues, implications of the federal deficit or global instability), 40 percent of advisors said global instability was the top concern in 2011.

Advisors were evenly divided on what did--or didn't--keep them up at night between a range of choices that included "running my business," "the markets," and "keeping my clients happy." Only one-quarter of advisors said they slept well in 2011.

Patrick Tucker, Principal at Meridian Management Inc. in Omaha, Neb., said the past few years have had a profound impact on investors and what they are looking for. "They aren't just looking for more investment reports or lengthy documents explaining the current status of the financial markets.''

He added that clients foremost want personal communication with their financial advisor through phone calls, emails, and meetings about issues that matter such as the status of their goals, personal situation and plans for the future.

Despite the upheaval caused by volatile markets and global macro uncertainty, 2011 was also an opportunity for some advisors to grow their business. Forty percent of survey respondents said their firm grew new net assets by more than 10 percent in 2011, while 12 percent said their firm grew by more than 20 percent. When it comes to growing a firm, advisors say the most useful strategy is, by far, via client referrals.

However, not all advisors were focused on growth. Nearly half (45 percent) said their top priority was to "strengthen existing client relationships."