Morgan Stanley Wealth Management has landed the top spot among investment firms in the Forrester US Customer Experience Index (CX Index™), 2021, moving up 15 spots from last year.

Merrill Lynch Wealth Management vaulted up 13 spots, landing it at number four in our rankings.

What caused these large improvements? A core strength of both is a trained army of financial advisors. Having already built up goodwill and trust with their customers over the years, these firms were well positioned to meet their clients’ needs as COVID-19 impacted every aspect of their lives.

In the midst of a global pandemic, market volatility, and soaring unemployment, Morgan Stanley financial advisors were “virtually there” for customers — the firm was the industry leader in quickly resolving problems and issues. Whether helping customers find sources of cash to make mortgage payments or simply serving as a sounding board to reassure clients, human advisors had an outsized impact on the CX Index 2021 rankings.

In the absence of face-to-face meetings with advisors because of quarantine restrictions, interactions by video, phone, or SMS were lifelines for customers, becoming true “moments that matter.” How customers felt after these interactions was a large emotional driver for Morgan Stanley clients, as the firm was the leader in making its customers feel valued.

As the rollout of vaccines continues and the world steadily reopens, successful wealth managers will see the impact that Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch advisors have had on their customers. I see them building up their advisor capabilities with better training and a focus on empathy, enabling advisors to meet core customer needs and make customers feel valued through personal interactions, not just digital channels. Given Morgan Stanley’s number one ranking, I expect that its advisors benefit from high customer retention, more customer referrals, and a larger book of business.

Forrester clients can review the full US CX Index 2021 results for investment firms and many other industries in our annual report.