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The Consumer Reports National Research Center comprises highly trained social scientists, including 9 Ph.D.s, using state-of-the-art techniques to survey more than 1 million consumers each year about products, services, health care and consumer issues.
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  • Reader score
    Overall satisfaction with firm's handling of investment account.
  • Investment returns
    Satisfaction with returns on investments.
  • Met goals
    Rating of how well firm met investor goals.
  • Customer service
    Rating of customer service.
  • Advice
    Rating of personal professional advice.
  • Online reports
    Rating of quality of online reports.

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Whether you’re a seasoned investor, a newbie, or someone retesting the waters after a scary loss, financial-services companies want your business. But aside from potential incentives, what will you get for moving your accounts? Is the service up to par? Is even free advice worth your time? If you're looking for information about investment companies, Consumer Reports is your best resource. Consumer Reports’ investment company reviews will give you honest advice that you can trust. Use our investment company buying guide to discover which features are most important to consider. We also provide unbiased ratings and investment company reviews to help you choose the best brokerage service for your needs.

Investment company buying guide

Whether you're a seasoned investor, a newbie, or someone retesting the waters after a scary loss, financial-services companies want your business. But aside from potential incentives, what will you get for moving your accounts? Is the service up to par? Is even free advice worth your time?

In late 2011 Consumer Reports investigated what financial-services companies were really providing to their customers. We surveyed our online subscribers about their experiences with their brokers. We sent staff members into brokerage offices in New York and Washington state to experience how clients seeking advice are served. And we 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.

Our results revealed good news and cautionary notes. If you're an active investor, like most of the subscribers who responded to our survey, you can feel good about the level of service and help you'll get at major U.S. brokerages, we found. We 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, you'll need to understand the process and be aware of the plans' limitations.

Highlights of our three-pronged investigation include the following.

  • Our 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.
  • In our field test, participants encountered some questionable sales tactics. One 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 us by Citibank and T. Rowe Price had somewhat more appropriate advice. Two expert financial planners analyzed 20 investment plans created for us 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'.

Still, our 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.

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