Consumer Reports Judges Advice and Survey Rates Brokerage Services at Major Financial Companies

Jan 03, 2012, 06:00 ET from Consumer Reports

Survey Finds USAA, Scottrade, and Vanguard score best amongst subscribers

YONKERS, N.Y., Jan. 3, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Whether you're a seasoned investor, a newbie, or someone retesting the waters after a scary loss, financial-services companies want your business. In its latest report, Consumer Reports investigated what financial-services companies are really providing to their customers.

Consumer Reports surveyed its online subscribers about their experiences with their brokers. The organization sent staff members into brokerage offices in New York and Washington state to experience how clients seeking advice were served. And the organization asked major financial-services companies to prepare investment plans based on the profiles of five of those staff members. Two independent financial planners and their teams evaluated the appropriateness of the advice in the companies' plans.

Consumer Reports' results revealed good news and cautionary notes. The organization found that active investors, like most of the subscribers who responded to the survey, can feel good about the level of service and help they get at major U.S. brokerages.

Consumer Reports also discovered that investors of all stripes can get free, basic investment plans from several financial companies. But to make the most of that advice, consumers need to understand the process and be aware of the plans' limitations.

Highlights from Consumer Reports' three-pronged investigation include the following:

Consumer Reports' survey revealed that readers were very satisfied with 10 of 13 major brokerages. USAA's brokerage arm led in overall satisfaction. Scottrade, an online broker, and Vanguard, the mutual-fund giant, also scored very highly overall as well.  

Broker satisfaction ratings are based on a 2011 Consumer Reports National Research Center online survey of 7,327 subscribers reporting on their experiences with brokerage firms between October 2010 and October 2011.

In Consumer Reports field test, participants encountered some questionable sales tactics. One CR staff member was shown a chart on a portfolio's performance that omitted the significant impact of fees. Another tester was pitched a complicated annuity product though the adviser knew little about her.

Plans prepared for Consumer Reports' staff members by Citibank and T. Rowe Price had somewhat more appropriate advice. Two expert financial planners analyzed 20 investment plans created for the Consumer Reports staffers by Citibank, Fidelity, Schwab, and T. Rowe Price, and judged them about equally good. Citi and T. Rowe Price earned somewhat higher marks for the appropriateness of investment recommendations. Citibank's approach toward planning was deemed more comprehensive than the others' approach.

Still, Consumer Reports' financial advice judges found inappropriate advice in several plans. They also found most of the documents to be filled with boilerplate language and short on real, actionable advice.

For the complete investigative report, and the full broker satisfaction ratings chart, visit or pick up a copy of Consumer Reports February issue on newsstands starting January 3, 2012.

Consumer Reports is the world's largest independent product-testing organization. Using its more than 50 labs, auto test center, and survey research center, the nonprofit rates thousands of products and services annually. Founded in 1936, Consumer Reports has over 8 million subscribers to its magazine, website and other publications.  Its advocacy division, Consumers Union, works for health reform, food and product safety, financial reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace.

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SOURCE Consumer Reports