Wealthy clients are very familiar with wirehouse brand names — a sign that the industry's heavy marketing is paying off. But when it comes to rating the actual services that firms deliver, wealthy clients favor boutique trust firms and private banks.

These are the findings of a study conducted by the Luxury Institute, a New York-based research organization focusing on the consumption tendencies of the wealthiest 10 percent of the nation. (High-net-worth respondents were asked to evaluate the top 30 wealth management firms from Barron's Top 40 list.)

Ultimately, the wirehouses (specifically Merrill, Morgan and Smith Barney) were recognized by respondents for their brand (see table), but considerably less so for the quality, exclusivity and other benefits of their services.

Why the disparity between brand recognition and service? Milton Pedraza, CEO of the Luxury Institute, says the most commonly cited reasons for why the rich favor boutiques — like New York-based Bessemer Trust, which was voted best in every category of the survey by respondents — are the independence of their advisors and the attention they lavish on clients. Another point in the recognition factor: The boutiques tend to rely on word-of-mouth marketing, while the wirehouses favor large-scale advertising campaigns.

“Which wealth management brands are you aware of?”
Merrill Lynch 82%
Charles Schwab 76%
Smith Barney 73%
Fidelity 69%
Goldman Sachs 65%
Morgan Stanley 65%
J.P. Morgan Private Bank 62%
Citigroup Private Bank 60%
Lehman Brothers 60%
Bank of America Private Bank 54%
Wells Fargo Private Bank 53%
Mellon Financial 45%
CSFB 41%
SunTrust 39%
UBS Wealth Management 38%
Deutsche Bank Wealth Management 35%
HSBC 33%
Deutsche Bank, Alex Brown 31%
U.S. Trust 29%
Northern Trust 26%
PNC Advisors 26%
Bank of NY Private Client 24%
U.S. Bank Private Client 21%
Wilmington Trust 21%
Harris Private Bank 18%
Neuberger Berman 16%
Bessemer Trust 15%
William Blair 13%
National City Private Client 10%

Source: Luxury Institute survey of over 400 wealth management clients with a minimum household income of $200,000 and net worth of $5 million.