Advisors may be underselling their trustworthiness and ability to preserve assets. And stressing trust, safety and other unique services in marketing messages is critical to distinguishing yourself from other advisory firms, according to a new study sponsored by Pershing Advisor Solutions.

The research, conducted by Harris Interactive, surveyed 600 investors with $1 million or more in assets (excluding homes and retirement plans) and examined their reactions to 29 of the most common value propositions found on the Web sites of Barron’s Top 100 Advisors.

Sixty percent of investors agreed, or somewhat agreed, that all advisors make the same promises, making it hard to tell the differences, according to a report on the findings.

The most commonly used value theme is “develop solutions that meet your needs,” and the most frequently mentioned attribute is “independence.”

“We identified what we call ‘table stakes’ promises, like offering a customized solution or acting in clients’ best interests,” said Kim Dellarocca, managing director at Pershing. “You’ve got to say those things, and investors reacted well to them, but you also have to say something different for investors to move ahead.”

Notably, advisors are underestimating the importance of safety, integrity and accountability, the study found.

“Conservative approaches are sought by investors but undersold by advisors who offer them,” the report said. Investors may not openly express concerns about risk, but many “strongly prefer value statements that suggest caution and prudence,” such as a focus on capital preservation and income or protection of a legacy.

Advisors have recovered from the financial crisis, but “investors have a long memory. It’s still really raw,” Dellarocca said. But things that are important to advisors, like independence, are not as critical for clients.

What’s important to all investors is a basic need for security, Dellarocca said. Advisors need to show they follow a prudent, cautious approach “and recognize for clients that [security] is fundamental to their well-being. But those seemed to be underutilized messages.”

Many advisor Web sites promise to make investing simpler or relieve the burden of managing money, but these propositions were less important to most investors. Higher-net-worth investors and younger clients may appreciate simplicity more, but the bulk of surveyed investors “don’t buy it,” Dellarocca said.
“They don’t believe it’s that simple. They recognize finances are complicated and are ready to play a role.”